By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of forty days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. The coming of Lent always seems a bit jarring, a time of disorientation and discontinuity. And this discontinuity is reflected in the lectionary itself. For today’s Gospel reading takes place a full eight chapters before last Sunday’s Gospel reading, which featured the Transfiguration of Christ on a mountaintop.
And this disorientation and discontinuity is reflected in our parish life, as well. Fr. David is away from us, recovering from a stroke. And we have to do the best we can to keep on keeping on without our leader. We are experimenting with combining the English- and Cantonese-speaking congregations for joint worship, and we don’t know yet how well this will work out. And finally, there is the fact that the Chinese New Year, a time of family celebration throughout much of Asia, falls right during the first two weeks of Lent, a time the Church has ordained for quiet reflection and repentance. This year, the discontinuity and disruption of Lent just cannot be ignored.
Now, we’re told that Lent is supposed to be a quiet time, a slow time, but this is surely not reflected in the Gospel reading from Mark. Mark rushes us through three important scenes in Jesus’ life in only seven verses.
First, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. Jesus sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descend into him. (Notice that I said, “into” not “on.” That’s what the Greek text literally says.) And Jesus hears the voice of his heavenly Father acknowledge him. Unlike other Evangelists, Mark does not mention whether others saw and heard what Jesus saw and heard. In Mark’s hurried account, the descent of the Spirit and the acknowledgement of God the Father seem to be meant only for Jesus, a sign that now is the time to start something new. Jesus is empowered by the Spirit, but even so, he is not immediately sent out to begin his ministry in the world.
Instead, he is cast out into the wilderness to undergo forty days of trial and temptation. Here again, Mark hurries through this episode in Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke go into great detail about each of the temptations of the Christ. Mark couldn’t care less. He has no time for that. The forty days flash by in a single sentence, and we proceed immediately to the ministry of Christ in the world, to his proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
By the Rev. Darren Miner
We’re two full weeks away from Easter, yet already we get more than a glimpse of what resurrections means. All three readings today deal in some way with the subject of life coming out of death.
Ezekiel tells us of a vision in which he looks over an ancient battlefield strewn with the desiccated bones of Israelite soldiers. He is told to prophesy to the bones and bring them back to life. And he does! Helpfully, Ezekiel also tells us the meaning of his vision: the dispirited and subjugated people of Israel, exiled in Babylon, will be given a new spirit of life and will be returned to their homeland.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit. Life in the flesh, we are told, is no life at all, but living death. Now, when Paul speaks of “flesh” he is not speaking of our physical bodies or of the material world as such. He uses that word “flesh” as a sort of code word to speak of creation alienated from God, humanity focused on self-gratification. Life in the Spirit, on the other hand, yields peace in the present and eternal life at the Resurrection.
Finally, we come to that long, but fascinating, story of the raising of Lazarus (whose name appropriately means “God helps”). This story is not a vision, like Ezekiel’s, and it’s not a theological treatise, like Paul’s letter. It purports to be a historical account. But unlike a newspaper story, this account clearly has a theological and a pastoral purpose.
By the Rev. Darren Miner
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of forty days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. The coming of Lent always seems a bit jarring, a time of disorientation and discontinuity. And this discontinuity is reflected in the lectionary. For today’s Gospel reading about the temptation of Christ in the wilderness takes place a full thirteen chapters before last Sunday’s Gospel reading, which featured the Transfiguration of Christ on a mountaintop. Just to reorient you, let me remind you what takes place just before Jesus’ temptation. Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit has descended upon him. Then, a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.” You might think that Jesus would now go forth and proclaim the Good News. But instead, before beginning his public ministry, he undergoes a time of testing. It’s at this point that today’s story begins
And it begins on a rather odd note, with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tested by the Devil. I say “leads” because that’s the word Matthew uses; in Mark’s Gospel, we’re told that the Spirit “casts him out” into the wilderness. In any case, one thing is clear: the whole episode takes place at God’s behest, not the Devil’s. We’re never told why, but I have some ideas on the subject. I suspect that this time of testing was necessary for Jesus to work out for himself just what kind of Messiah he was going to be, to figure out what kind of Kingdom he was going to proclaim—and to come to terms with the possible consequences of those decisions, such as death on a Roman cross.