Mark 1: 9-15
It is such a deep echo, across these two Sundays.
Last week, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, at the Mount of the Transfiguration, in the Ninth Chapter of Mark. Peter, James, and John with Jesus on that sunny afternoon, as Jean imagined it so vividly in her sermon last week. Near the end of the story. Their faces soon to turn toward Jerusalem. Passover. Holy Week. Good Friday. And there on the mountaintop, the vision. All brightness, the light of the Father shining through. Jesus brilliant. Moses and Elijah. And then a cloud momentarily darkens the sky. And from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This is my beloved Son.
Just a week later, now, and we are transported for a moment back to the beginning, the First Chapter. The afternoon by the river. And here a vision as well, as Jesus comes up out of the baptismal waters, “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” And again the voice. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And so with these echoing reverberations: Lent.
The season of deepest reflection. The forty days in the wilderness a compelling image not simply for the early spring of the Church Year while we tap our fingers and wait for early April and Easter, but for the long season of our lives. Tempted of Satan. With the wild beasts. That certainly an evocative phrase. Perhaps you’ve spent some time with wild beasts in your life. Perhaps that’s where you are right now. We’ve all been there, that’s for sure.
Taking off our blinders as best we can. Seeing through the illusions. Some of the key words from the Ash Wednesday service. Self-examination. And Repentance. Metanoia. A change of mind. Thinking again. That beautiful John Donne poem in our Hymnal as #140. Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun, which is my sin, though it were done before? A question and a plea that would humble us perhaps. Looking at ourselves with honesty. Seeking a new mind and a new heart. A fresh start.
Fasting. However that works for you. Meat on Fridays. Sweets. The glass of wine at dinner. Television. A couple of my Facebook friends post up on their Wall that they are giving up Facebook for Lent. I guess one of life’s diverting pleasures, though I’m not always sure about that. Sometimes this seems to work like a second go at our New Year’s Resolutions. Whatever it takes to get our lives together.
And meditating on God’s Holy Word. Perhaps you are following along with the lectionary and our booklet of daily meditations. Or attending one of the parish Bible Studies. There is more power there than people think sometimes. The vision St. Augustine had. The book before him, and the command echoing. “Tolle; lege.” Pick it up and read it. Who knows what or whom you might find? Who knows what, or who, might find you?
For all this, our friends down the block at St. Raphael’s Church have a signboard that they put out in their Churchyard during Advent and Christmas, which is a sign that we would I think with appropriate care and focus bring out here on the First Sunday in Lent also. With the vision on the mountaintop and that moment at the Jordan River fresh in our mind. And the voice of the Father.
“Jesus is the reason for the season.” Probably you’ve seen that around lots of places. Jesus is the reason for the season.
There is of course a good rationale for this in December, as visions of sugarplums and the joyful prancing of Santa’s reindeer may often seem to distract us from the Bethlehem stable. As you know, I’m all for sugarplums and reindeer. But we can miss the boat in December, if we’re not careful.
Actually we can miss that boat just about any month of the year, any season. If we think December is special in that regard we should probably think again. It is our nature it seems to turn in on ourselves.
The Lenten road from Transfiguration Mountain and from this Jordan River will carry us all the way through this wilderness to the foot of the Cross. And Jesus is there already. And from there across all this distance in what is his eternal offering of this most costly gift of love, his life itself, for us, he can see us already as we are. If we could be aware of that each of these forty days. We see his Cross already above the beam across the chancel. His words from John 12. “And I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.”
His eyes already seeing us and knowing us entirely for who we are. At our best and not at our best. Knowing us and loving us, and drawing us even at this far distance to himself.
What it’s all about. Lent. As we would open the Bible, as we say our prayers, as we seek quiet, simplicity, reflection. A fresh start.
Not about us. Not about our hard work. Not about our getting better. Getting healthy. Doing good things. Becoming more spiritual. But turning toward him, with our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts, the intentions of our lives. Jesus: the reason for the season. We’ll come to him here at the Holy Table, but pray we don’t leave him there.
Remembering the famous prayer of Richard of Chichester. Eight hundred years ago, but still fresh and new. The reason for the season. The prayer that is echoed in the familiar hymn. Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.