Romans 10: 8b-13. Luke 4: 1-13
Each year on the first Sunday of Lent we reflect on the story of Jesus entering the wilderness for 40 days before he begins his public ministry. For those of us who have a long practice of church attendance and have many years of Lenten observance, it may be difficult for us to discover new things in the gospel account with our close familiarity to the text. But of course while the text may be familiar our life situation changes, and this year we find our world in a very different place.
The story of Jesus’s experience in the desert is full of deep significance in our understanding of his nature and of all that will follow in his journey to the cross. The backdrop to the temptations that Jesus has to face is the arid landscape of the desert. Jesus has just been confirmed in his ministry by the baptism of John and received the empowering of the Holy Spirit. This was witnessed by the people gathered on the banks of the Jordan, but now in the wilderness he is stripped of any support or company. He has no disciples by his side: he has no friend or companion. He battles through, clinging to his faith, resisting all temptation and arming himself with the words of scripture.
Spiritual writers have often spoken of the way the Christian soul may also experience the desert, when the familiar landscapes and certainties are lost to us and we feel abandoned and cast adrift. It is a frightening time and we are left to trust in God to bring us through to a deeper awareness of his purposes for us.
As I thought of the desert landscape that surrounded Jesus my mind was taken to the terrible scenes we see each night beamed from the cities of Ukraine.
When I visited as a tourist some years ago I attended the ballet in Kyiv. We sat in red upholstered chairs and all around us were families with their children, enjoying their national ballet. They all had homes and schools, jobs and a future to enjoy. Now their proud buildings are rubble; they hide in underground shelters or travel as refugees for help from their neighbours. Their cities have become wilderness places; their old certainties are gone.
What does Lent have to say to us through this landscape, and in the midst of so much suffering and pain? To think about giving up chocolate or cake seems frankly obscene. Each day we know that Ukrainian families are hoping for signs of intervention. They hope God will prosper the efforts of resistance and will confound the powers of darkness that surround them.
In my prayers this week I have found my mind returning again and again to the words of Mary in the Magnificat:
He has shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
This has been my prayer, that God would hear the cries of the innocent and have pity on their plight. I pray that power and might will fail. Pharaoh and his armed forces were destroyed: Goliath was toppled by the sling of the shepherd boy. Mighty empires have crumbled when they believed they were invincible.
We all need to be constant in our prayers, supporting the Ukrainian people in our petitions to God and in supporting the aid agencies in their work. It is a sobering reminder to us all of the freedoms we often take for granted and of the things that really matter in life.
The church’s collect prayer for the first Sunday of Lent prays that as God knows our weakness, so we might know his power to save. We know ourselves to be powerless in the face of this evil but let us pray that we may witness the saving power of God at work in our world today.