Lent – the walk with Jesus

Posted by Fr. Tere on 03/04/2017

Chagall Adam & EveGod of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit.

This prayer, from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library Revised Common Lectionary series, emphasizes some of the great themes of Lent – wilderness, baptism/water, temptation, struggle, blessing, repentance, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Marc Chagall’s Adam and Eve shows some of the same themes. We see the nudity/purity of Adam and Eve, just before they disobey God, but while they are contemplating doing so. The crafty serpent waits with them, while the Holy Spirit hovers over them, and the perfect creation surrounds them, with flowers, animals, water, blessing – all in their perfect and original state. It is only after they decide to disobey, by eating the forbidden fruit, that everything changes. We live with and within that changed world, where nothing is as it should be.

From that one act, that one choice of one Man (Adam/Eve), death and destruction has reigned throughout the world. Everything in creation was changed, damaged, darkened – the DNA of creation was irreparably damaged.  

There are two broad schools of theology that flow from the Fall, both well-represented in the Church today (and, of course, there is another school that says there was no Fall, that we just oozed up from the slime as we are). The first is that the Fall, however defined, did not irreparably damage creation, that all creation is still “good,” as God said it was within the creation. If there is evil, it is because we have not done our part in repairing that evil. This school basically holds that humanity can bring everything back into focus under our own power, that humanity is on an upward trajectory, moving always toward perfection, that we are becoming more holy and in tune with the Creation always.

Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus temptedThe other school sees a radical break with Creation in the Fall, in which all things are made less than they were, and that humanity is totally depraved – exactly the opposite of what God created. This view is that every person born after the fall is enslaved to the service of sin, because of our fallen nature, and that nothing we can do on our own can change that fact. We even can’t always realize we are serving evil. As Samuel asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” David, the anointed king of Israel, did what was evil in his sight.

According to this school, on our own we are unable to resist sin, choose God, or accept his offered salvation. Much of the Reformation accepts this concept of total depravity. It says that without God, through the Holy Spirit, intervening, we can never accept salvation. First the Spirit comes to us; then we can choose to accept the gift that Jesus made possible. Some believe that God only chooses some people as candidates for salvation. John 3:17, however, explicitly states (and many other sayings a Jesus affirm) that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus also says, in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” After the resurrection, when the Holy Spirit was sent to the world, it is possible for all people to be saved.

Jesus did not die for some sins or some sinners – he died that all might live, and the only way we can live is to become part of the Life that is Jesus, walk in the Way that is Jesus, become the Truth that is Jesus. He didn’t come to condemn, he came to save.

Lent is a time of good news, although it has not always been seen that way. It is a time of good news precisely because God is the God of the wilderness in which we find ourselves. Because we have already accepted his grace through Jesus Christ, we can see we are in the wilderness, as opposed to being in Eden, in the garden. If we know we are here, we know we are in God through Jesus Christ. The world does not see the wilderness – it accepts what it sees as the norm. because of the season of Lent, we know we follow a Savior like us – one who was tempted in the same wilderness in which we find ourselves, one who was tempted in every way, just as we are, but one who, as a human without original sin, could say “No,” to temptation and “Yes,” to God. He knows what we are going through, but because of his death and resurrection, he makes it possible for us to say “No,” as well.

We do not seek to avoid the struggle with sin. We seek the grace, the blessing, to win the struggle, not on our own, but with his power and grace. Without the struggle, we might see ourselves as already perfected, already in the Kingdom. The struggle allows us to continue to depend on God, not on ourselves, to allow him to cleanse us by calling us to repentance (turning around), to fall fully on the power of the Holy Spirit, who is strong enough to rend heaven on our behalf.

Lent reminds us that we have no power of our own to save ourselves. It reminds us that without the grace of God, we would not even know we need to be saved. It reminds us that salvation is not only a one-time action, but also a journey – a journey into Christ.

Can you open yourself to the wilderness, and to the blessing this Lent? Can you open yourself to allowing the Holy Spirit to be the cleansing depths of repentance? Are we brave enough to hear the words of the Holy Spirit, the words strong enough to rend heaven? Walk in faith, walk in fear and trembling, to love and serve the Lord.                                                                                  Pastor Tere

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