This morning’s Epistle from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans really hits the nail on the head – humanity is sinful, it isn’t comfortable to be reminded of this, in fact the world around us would much rather forget this fact, but Lent is a time for facing home truths, for being confronted with the truth about the human condition – we’re not as good as we think we are. If this were the whole story then I suspect that we could and indeed should feel utterly miserable and wretched. Thankfully it isn’t – our vocation as Christians is to be joyful, even when we are penitent, for the simple reason that we can have hope in Christ, that in our baptism we share in His life, death and resurrection. Paul can rejoice in the ‘abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’ poured out by God in Christ, who on the Cross takes our sins upon Himself, who pays the debt which we cannot, who restores the relationship between us and God, and between ourselves. The Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented here, today, so that we, the people of God can be fed by God, fed with God, healed and restored, and given a foretaste of heaven.
As we undertake the spiritual journey of Lent we spend forty days in prayer, in penitence, and fasting, so that we may celebrate with joy Our Lord and Saviour’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We enter the desert of repentance, turning away from sin, turning to God, to love Him, to trust Him, to ask Him to heal us and restore us. We do what we do because Christ has done it before. At the start of His public ministry, Jesus goes to pray and fast, and we follow His example. He was led by the Spirit, as God Incarnate He is God, and His life demonstrates the unity of the Trinity. He’s been fasting for forty days, he’s starving – he’s a human being, he isn’t some superhero who is immune to human feelings. He is tempted by the devil to turn the stones around Him into bread; it is the temptation to be relevant, a temptation into which our contemporary church seems all too willing to give. His reply to the devil, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God, reminds us that as Christians we are fed by Word and Sacrament, nourished by God so that we may grow in faith.
Christ is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and told to throw Himself down – it is the temptation to be spectacular, again something which the contemporary church seems rather keen on. But nothing should be done for show; we are to follow Christ simply and humbly, trusting in Him. The devil wants to put God to the test, it is an act of disobedience, contrary to the humble obedience which sees us live trusting in God, relying upon Him, formed by Him.
Christ is tempted to turn away from God the Father, to worship a false god. He is offered much in material terms – all the world and its splendour – wealth and power – a huge temptation for humanity, and one into which many people give. The Church too has given in, and continues so to do. We have to be weak, powerless and vulnerable, so that God can be at work in us, as we humbly worship and serve Him. It may look foolish in worldly terms, but that is the point – we’re not meant to be conformed to the world, but as we seek to grow in faith, in humility, and obedience, we allow God to be at work in us – taking us and refashioning us.
So as we undertake to follow Christ in our Lenten pilgrimage we do so in our weakness, so that we may rely upon God, and Him alone. We do so joyfully, knowing that Christ’s victory which we will celebrate at Easter is total and complete – it is justification and life for all.
Let us pray that we may receive grace to follow Christ so that we may prepare to celebrate His Death and Resurrection and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.