On Ash Wednesday we began to look foward to the events of Holy Week and Easter. Since the 4th century, on the first Sunday in Lent Christians have prepared for Easter by meditating on the temptations of Christ. These temptations attacked Jesus' identity and self-understanding. But strengthened by his experience, we can pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane and follow him to the cross.
After his baptism, Jesus felt the strong urging of the Spirit to go into the wilderness for a time of soul searching and preparation for his ministry. At the end of that forty day period of prayer and fasting, he began to feel the results of his time of austerity. He was terribly tired and hungry. The tempter, or devil, chose that moment to come to a physically weakened and vulnerable Jesus and test him. Yet, the weeks spent in the wilderness had resulted in a mentally tough, spiritually strong man, ready to embark on the Great Mission entrusted to him by his heavenly Father. The Bible tells us that the tempter enticed Jesus, quoting Scripture to bolster his arguments. He tried to get him to use his power to turn the rocks at his feet into bread to feed himself rather than relying on his Father to take care of his physical needs; then he tried to get Jesus to recognize his - the tempter's - so-called authority over the earth and its inhabitants, telling him that he would confer this power and authority on Jesus if he would fall down and worship him; and when that failed to trick his victim, he tempted Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple so that the people would proclaim him their Messiah and King, After all, he quoted, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you." (Psalm 91). But Jesus wasn't falling for any of the tempter's silky lies. "It is written," he said again and again: "'One does not live by bread alone;'" "'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him;'" "'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
We have entered the season of Lent, the forty days before Jesus' death and resurrection. These next weeks we bring the temptations that face us to the hours of worship, placing them at the foot of the cross. We bring our bags of burdens, our baggage as it were, with us: Our indifference to the sufferings of the world; our envy of those whom we believe to be more fortunate than we; our pride; our inordinate concern for our own personal security; our secret, or not so secret, resentments; our anxieties and fears. They are many. One of the most dangerous is complacency. We hardly hear the voice of the enemy as he cajoles us into spiritual ennui, the sense that we're not so bad and the problems of the world, or even in our own lives, aren't our fault, and anyway, what can we do about them?
But the call of our Lord and King is here, too, overriding the voice of the devil. Christ calls us to honest self-examination. He calls us to a new commitment, to resist whatever is unworthy and base. He draws us to the cross to see his sorrowing eyes and his infinite longing for us and our healing and that of the world.
The glad good news of the Gospel is here at the foot of the cross. There we leave the whole wretched cargo of our sins and failures, of shattered hopes, of erratic devotion. Jesus sweeps them up in his outstretched arms and carries them away as far as the east is from the west.
At the foot of the cross Christ also summons us to follow him. He never lets up in his search for the lost, the needy, the weary, who have lost their hope and given up on life. He finds us, we don't find him. He chooses us, we don't choose him. He saves us, we don't choose to be saved. Where he goes, we now go. And on the way, we will find one another, forgive one another, and serve and enjoy the fellowship of our Lord and our brothers and sisters.