Against the backdrop of the misty mountains, an older man carrying a hiking pack stands in front of a stone monument with the shape of a shell on its side; his heels balance on the edge of the rise of the hill and his eyes are downcast and reflective. The cover of one of my favorite movies captures a lot in a very simple image.
The 2011 movie, The Way, follows the occasionally gruesome, occasionally hilarious journey of a father who, after his son dies while walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela on pilgrimage, picks up the trail; as this 60-year-old man takes on the 500-mile journey that he didn’t prepare for, he stops along the way, to spread the ashes of his son, so that his son can complete the Camino through him. It’s a great movie that explores the nature of relationships and faith, and how they so often inform each other. “The thing is,” the main actor said in a commentary about what happens on the way, “that no one can carry your pack for you, but you can’t really walk it alone either.”
There is a lot of beauty in this, but there is also so much Lenten truth to it as well. The nature of Lent is that it is inherently individual – each day every one of us who are attempting to turn again to God during this season must wake up and decide how we might take on or put down those things that create space between us and God. But it is also true that Lent is inherently communal, earlier this week we came together to outwardly note the fragility of life and that we are intentionally turning our hearts back to God in a new and refreshed way; together we committed to the reality that Lent will change us and throughout the season of Lent, we will lean on each other in overt or subtle ways as we gather together to say our prayers and to explore how we might live our faith together. Lent is the long journey to the cross, and the thing is, no one can carry you for this season, but you can’t walk it alone either.
Every first Sunday in Lent, in our gospel lesson, we hear one of the three versions of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This story is so well known that it often gets a mashed up into one version, when Matthew, Mark, and Luke all present it differently in their gospel accounts. In Mark’s gospel, none of the specific temptations by the devil are named and in Matthew’s, the order is a little different, but what’s unique about Luke’s version, the one we hear today, is that Jesus wasn’t just led by the Spirit into the wilderness, but that Jesus was filled with it as well. This harkens back to Jesus’ baptism as the heavens opened up and God spoke directly upon Christ.
Our gospel lesson is, of course, about temptation – what a better thing to talk about on the first Sunday of Lent, but I think it’s important to remember that this passage from the gospel according to Luke isn’t about the devil, or evil, or even about the wilderness, it’s about how our Savior encounters and responds to temptation, and key to that is that it starts with the Holy Spirit. Could Christ, fully human and fully divine, resisted the great tempter without the Spirit that filled him at his baptism, without the Spirit with which he was full before he went into the wilderness? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
In Luke’s gospel, it’s easy to forget how ever-present the Holy Spirit is; it would be easy to assume that Jesus is alone in the wilderness facing these temptations, but when we look with eyes that see, we know that Jesus was not alone in that wilderness, we know that God, through the Holy Spirit was with him. While the Spirit couldn’t have defied those temptations for him, Jesus certainly wasn’t walking alone.
There is a resistance to talk about sin in the church today; this, I think, might be a reaction to how many people heard or hear others talk about sin in a fire and brimstone way. Sin can very quickly become this looming shadow of a word in our spiritual lives, I think that we don’t talk about it because it’s hard to get a balance. How do we strike a middle ground between “sinners in the hand of an angry God” and “I’m okay, you’re okay”? Beloveds, we are not okay; we are not okay, sin is present in our lives individually and communally, but more importantly, God hates nothing that God has made, and desires life for us.
Lent is an invitation to live. It is an invitation to self-examination and self-denial, yes, but through that to find the freedom of becoming full not of our own desires, but of the Spirit and to live life not for ourselves but for others. Life, though, cannot be embraced while we are clinging to the things that we think are keeping us afloat; Lent is an invitation to embrace life while putting down those things that take the life from you.
Lent is an invitation to trust. It is a time in which we can build our trust in God’s faithfulness; a time in which we can learn to lean on the Spirit. It is a time in which we can foster trust; trust, though, is strengthened through practice; Lent is an invitation to practice and intentional exercises in trusting God, yourself, and your faith community.
And Lent is an invitation to repent. It is an invitation to repent because temptations and sin are real and if we fall into them we are not somehow outside the bounds of God’s love and grace. Repentance is about turning and returning to God; Lent is an invitation to eliminate the space between yourself and God, it is an invitation, through repentance, to draw near to God so that God might draw near to you.
So, this holy season, repent and trust and live into the life to which God is calling you, and remember that no one can walk this season for you, but you can’t really walk it alone.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on the Lent 1C, March 10, 2019 on Luke 4:1-13