The Journey Begins

Mar 08, 2011

The Journey Begins by Richard Lischer

Every year we enter Lent as on a journey that begins with Jesus’ own sojourn in the wilderness. Neither the journey nor the wilderness comes naturally anymore to North Americans, who long ago completed their journey and tamed their wilderness. To be sure, we are a highly mobile people, but we don’t seem to be going anyplace special. We move from town to town and job to job, but the telos of our wanderings and the satisfaction of our longings remain elusive.

In the Lenten Gospel readings the church will make its progress by means of a series of dialogues and stories found in scripture. Along the way we will discover that the journey does not follow the familiar route from a lower-paying to a higher-paying job, from illness to health, or from misery to happiness. The Temptation, in particular, will renarrate Israel’s experience as a pattern of the church’s struggle in an alien environment called the wilderness.

Israel passed through the waters and wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, which turned out to be a place of apostasy. It was in the wilderness that Israel learned to ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

In due course, another son of God passed through the waters of baptism. Jesus endured 40 days of testing in which Satan offered him the perennial alternatives to faithful Christian identity. The Messiah’s only appeal against the needs of the body, the desire to avoid suffering, and the allure of political power was to the word of God. Where we failed and continue to fail, he succeeded. Where we try to have it both ways, he chose the single path. Now, baptized in his name, we walk in his shadow and fight all our battles in him.

It may seem quaint to us that some Christians still think they must renounce certain pleasures during Lent. But that is the way Jesus began his pilgrimage. Before he could be the true Messiah, he had to discover the sort of messiah he would not be. In affirming God, he first rejected the blandishments and lies of the wilderness, just as in the baptismal liturgy the candidate says yes to God by first saying no to Satan, the evil powers of this world, and all sinful desires. At baptism the whole church thunders as one, “I renounce them.”

Flannery O’Connor has a story about a little girl who loves to visit the convent and the sisters. But every time the nun gives her a hug, the crucifix on Sister’s belt gets mashed into the child’s face. The gesture of love always leaves a mark.

On our journey toward the resurrection, we discover our true identity or, better, it is imprinted upon us. For many it is a fearful experience of testing, but one that is moderated by a special grace: we make this journey together, with the whole Christian church on earth, and we follow the One who has already completed the course.

We will be following the Common Revised Lectionary this year as we observe Lent. If you want to follow along in the readings for each Sunday please go to the link below to see which groupings of scripture to focus on for each of the six weeks of lent.

A Helpful Prayer as we enter this journey once again.

Almighty and everlasting God,

You breathed into the dust of earth the very breath of life and created us for close, personal, intimate fellowship with you. In our sinfulness and weakness we broke that fellowship and set out on our own path – a path that leads to emptiness, unfulfillment and death. But you brought about our full redemption through Your Son, Our Savior, Jesus the Christ. In love he restored us to fellowship with you. Assist us who struggle with sin and weakness, by your grace, to follow you in close proximity in these days and months to come that we may know you in the power of your resurrection, and in the intimate sharing of your sufferings so that we might become like you in your death in order to receive from you the resurrection to eternal life we pray in Jesus name – Amen.

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