“And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days.” – Mark 1:10-13
Ever have an incredible spiritual experience? One where you felt the presence of God so close to you? One where you just knew that God had a plan for your life, and God was walking with you?
And then, has that feeling ever left just as soon as it came? And have you ever felt as though you are lost in the wilderness?
Jesus knew what that was like. He knew what it was to emerge from the waters of baptism to the voice of God proclaiming that God was “well pleased” with him. And he knew what it was to then immediately be sent into the wilderness for forty hard days.
In Lent we are called into a different sort of wilderness for forty days. After the familiar songs, raised candles, and joy of Christmas only a couple of months before, we are now in a time of stark simplicity, repressed “Alleluias,” and a journey toward the cross. In times like this we Christians must not seem like much fun to be around.
And yet, in Lent we are reminded that we make this journey because Jesus made it first. Christ went into the wilderness to pray, and to fast, and to ready himself spiritually for what was to come. And in Lent we do the same. We know that we too are journeying to the cross. But we have the luxury of also knowing about the next part of the journey. We have the luxury of knowing about the empty tomb.
And so in Lent we are preparing ourselves to be people of the Resurrection. We are going deeper spiritually, and preparing ourselves to be the people we want to be on Easter morning. Lent isn’t something to be endured. Lent is a wilderness journey that will lead us to new life.
Jesus, help us to follow you into the wilderness. And in that wilderness, help us to find you in ourselves.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of the forthcoming Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.