And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. – Mark 1:12
No sooner has Jesus been baptized and blessed and pronounced beloved, no sooner has he come up out of the Jordan’s murky waters with divine favor dripping off him like so much victory champagne, than the very Spirit of God marches him into the barren desert.
What is up with that?
There will be more dramatic reversals to come for Jesus: His first sermon, then the mob that tries to run him off a cliff. The glory of his mountaintop transfiguration, then the down-to-earth reality of human brokenness. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then the agony of the cross.
Sounds like normal life: peaks and valleys, feast and famine, heartland and wilderness. Yet as much as we might think our hard times are just something to be survived, Jesus’ experience—and that of his Hebrew ancestors—suggests that disaster is holy ground, that wilderness is where we are found and formed, that the Creator’s best work is done in a void.
Maybe that’s why the Spirit forces God-pleasing, wet-behind-the-ears Jesus into the wasteland: so that he will learn who and whose he is, to prepare him for what is to come, to create a life-shaping bond between him and the Holy that not even death will be able to break.
If you are reading this, you have at least one foot in Lent’s blessed wilderness. However much these 40 days might try your soul, however often you will be tempted to call it quits, know that God’s transforming love will see you through. And the angels will wait on you.
Holy Spirit, drive me out of my comfort zone and into the fullness of life. And thanks for the angels.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.