On Wednesday, the church entered a new season called Lent, the time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. At Easter, we will celebrate in a particular way Jesus dying and rising to the full life of God that begins to spread to all people throughout all of creation. But before we celebrate, we prepare. There will be six purple Sundays to prepare for the feast.
Each year, on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear an account of what happens immediately after Jesus is baptized. This year we read from St. Mark's gospel. When Jesus emerges out of the waters of the Jordan River, we know that the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends like a dove. Jesus hears a voice from heaven tell him that he is the Beloved, that God is pleased with him. It is a beautiful moment, something Jesus might want to savour, but God has other ideas.
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Jesus is driven out by the Spirit to the wilderness for forty days. "Driven out" is the language used when Jesus displays his power to get rid of demons. We understand that God's power is at work here with Jesus, removing him quickly to a separate place and a separate time.
The wilderness is both place and time. In the Bible, the wilderness is a place of rebellion where Hebrew people and prophets struggle to trust in God. It is also a time of encounter, like when Moses takes off his sandals in front of the bush on fire that does not burn up. The wilderness is a place of emptiness where food, water, and shelter are not in abundance. The wilderness is also a time of few distractions, when the only abundance seems to be the temptation to turn back and leave.
St. Mark tells us that in the time of the wilderness, Jesus is with the wild beasts. Wild beasts search and hunt for food, drink, and shelter. Their needs are all about survival only. Do wild beasts plan? Do wild beasts worry? Do they need to be perfect, do they need to be the best? Do wild beasts need to be liked? With the wild beasts, what does Jesus learn?
St. Mark tells us that in the time of the wilderness, the angels wait on him. What does this mean? When Jesus leaves everything for the emptiness of the wilderness, his needs are taken care of--his physical needs, like those of the wild animals, and his spiritual needs, too.
Why is this important? Why is it so important that the Holy Spirit drives Jesus then and there with such power?
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
After the wilderness, Jesus says the time is fulfilled. After the wilderness, Jesus says the kingdom of God has come near. After the wilderness, Jesus brings together time and place into one idea.
After the place of emptiness, Jesus knows the fullness of time--that kairos time we spoke of a few weeks ago. Because of his time spent in the wilderness, Jesus knows the time is ripe; he knows time bursts with the abundance of God.
Every year we listen to an account of Jesus in the wilderness. Each year we enter the wilderness of Lent, a time and place of emptiness. We plan what we are going to give up, or what we are going to do--but we remember that wild beasts do not plan. Lent is God's time--the Holy Spirit driving us out, into this season, makes that pretty clear. In Lent we allow ourselves to be emptied, just like Jesus does, so that at Easter, we may be filled with the abundance of God.