Here we are in Lent, the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Church decorations are shrouded in purple or taken away altogether, and people consider what to give up or take on for Lent.
But what is the point of lent? Certainly there are many scriptural examples of 40 periods of time (Genesis 6-8,Exodus 24:12-14, 1 Kings 19:1-12, Matt 4:1-11 to name a few). I like how Ireton, in her book The Circle of Seasons, puts it:
We can be raised to new life only if we have first died to the old one. That is the challenge - and the gift - of Lent. (73)
At the beginning of this season I heard a helpful reflection on Lent and Jesus' 40 day time in the desert. The pastor talked about each of Jesus' temptations in turn. See Matthew's account below if you need to refresh yourself. It is interesting to note that in each of the temptations, Jesus was in some way offered a shortcut - whether instant food or power - Jesus was tempted away from the hard path he would follow.
In many ways that is how Lent - and the aspect of our spirituality that it focuses on - is for us too. When we are tempted to think that life should be easy, we are reminded that there are no shortcuts. There is no quick way to righteousness, to loving God with all of our being. There is only the way of Christ. Certainly his way is enough - in fact it is more than enough; it is the best way. The temptations to seek shortcuts are real, and in our weariness we can find ourselves longing for them. May we learn to fix our eyes on Christ, who understands even this and is the all-powerful one who is surely strong to help us.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11, New International Version, ©2011)