Our Lenten journey this year begins in the wilderness. It’s fitting for the theological journey of a time of darkness, sacrifice and confession to begin there.
I wasn’t raised in a faith tradition that celebrated Lent or marked this season before Easter with anything but anticipation of Christ overcoming the grave.
Ever since I learned about Lent and walked the journey of darkness preceding Christ overcoming the grave, I have loved this season in the church calendar. I know it seems a bit odd.
Even as I prepare with my congregation for Lent, my excitement and passion for the season is evident. I even go as far as saying we are going to celebrate Lent.
From the questions from my congregation, I gather that Lent is not so exciting for others. I certainly understand their perspectives.
Sitting in darkness, confessing our sins every week, and being reminded again and again about sacrificial love and living isn’t necessarily fun.
The reason I love Lent is because of this passage in Matthew 4:1-11, which described Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
He fasts 40 days and nights and then is presented with several opportunities to turn from his calling and mission.
Jesus was tempted. Jesus was in the wilderness. Jesus had a moral debate with the devil and with himself about what his power and what his position should and should not be used to accomplish.
Jesus had Scripture used against him, challenging him to be someone who he was not called to be.
For me, all of this is reassuring because I know so many people who have encountered these same moral quandaries.
As a pastor of a community of faith that is welcoming and affirming of LGBTQIA+ peoples, and as a woman pastor coming from the Baptist tradition, we too have had Scripture quoted against us.
We too have been tempted to misuse our voices, our stories, our power and our positions for our own good rather than the greater good of bringing light and love to others. We too have experienced the wilderness.
To have a small insight into Jesus’ wilderness journey is to have an insight into our own wilderness journeys.
In my experience, it isn’t when I am well and feeling strong that temptation comes, but rather in periods of fasting when I am feeling hungry, tired, alone and vulnerable that temptation comes.
And just like Jesus’ journey, the wilderness comes right after I have been so sure and so certain I have experienced the Spirit of God resting on my shoulders.
Unlike my personal wilderness treks, Lent provides an opportunity to go knowingly into the wilderness, to visit Jesus as he is being tempted and to gather strength from Jesus’ strength.
Unlike my personal wilderness treks, during Lent, we don’t go into the wilderness alone.
We go with the strength of Jesus overcoming the temptations of the devil. We go with the assurance that 40 days is not nearly as long as we think it is.
And, perhaps most important, we go together to discover the deep well of love in the person of Jesus Christ and to refine our hearts and minds focusing on what is truly important.
Come, let us go together. Into the wilderness. Into deep reflection. Into deeper relation with God and each other.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2020. Each week, we will have an article reflecting on the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. For this week, we published a reflection on Ash Wednesday (see here), as well as today’s article engaging on of this Sunday’s lectionary texts.
Merianna Harrelson is pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.