Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, First Sunday in Lent, Year B
February 18, 2018
Lessons: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people prayerfully lay down the burdens and possessions that come between them and God in order to enter Lent with space for the Holy One to dwell with them.
Key Scripture: 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. Mark 1:11-12
I wonder how composer Stephen Sondheim would craft a Broadway musical version of Mark’s gospel for the First Sunday in Lent. Instead of Into the Woods, would we be treated to a rip-roaring version of Into the Wilderness? Imagine Jesus being driven, dripping wet from his baptism, by a dive-bombing pigeon or a cantankerous and madly honking wild goose (if the Celtic imagery for the Holy Spirit works better for you). It would be surreal scene to be sure.
Mark doesn’t give us an extended script for these 40 days. In fact, he distills the entire time period into two compact sentences with Satan, wild beasts, and angels as the other actors. There are no salacious details about the temptations as there are in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. The wilderness event doesn’t even factor in John’s story. Mark leaves the details to our imaginations. For him, the important movement is into ministry, and Mark keeps the plot moving right along; poor John the Baptizer goes straight from the Jordan to prison without any illumination for the audience — a minor part for sure.
The thing I appreciate most about Mark’s account is its untamable pace that drags us right along for the ride without so much as an intermission to catch our collective breath. And isn’t that how our life goes: fragile, fleeting, and only truly viewed in the rearview mirror of faith?
The 40 days of Lent offer us the opportunity to pare back our typically overstuffed and chaotic daily lives by plunging into a faith-full landscape that requires us to travel light and walk in step with the wild ones, accompanied by the angels of divine mercy, grace, and love. In this wilderness landscape, we are invited to lay down our excess baggage and encounter Jesus in prayer, contemplation, and faith practices. And yes, the forces of the world that would draw us away step handily into the role of Satan and tempt us back into the security of our familiar patterns and habits, the demons that alternately plague and seduce us.
It can be downright terrifying to face the wilderness without our masks of security and without our precious possessions or carefully cultivated social media personas. The only way, however, to draw deeply into the love of God is to let go of all of our illusions of security and control. We go from satiated and nourished in the waters of baptism to parched, dark wilderness nights of the soul. There are no shortcuts around the wilderness; it’s a journey traversed only by foot and sometimes on our hands and knees.
The good news is that thanks to Jesus, we do not have to languish in the wilderness. Like a Sondheim musical, there’s a resolution and we are called back into the world, changed and ready to move on in ministry and mission. In the rearview mirror of life, our wilderness journey through Lent/life is but a minor part of the sweeping salvation narrative—but is ever so necessary in forming and shaping us in the way of Christ.
And so, with apologies to Sondheim: Into the wilderness/it’s time to move on/I hate to leave security/I have to move on/into the wilderness/it’s time and so/I must begin my journey/journey with Jesus into the wilderness/with the wild ones and angels/to there I must go. Blessings on your own journey and on the collective journey of the Body of Christ you serve.
How can you create a visual wilderness in your worship space? Can you use bare branches, a large bowl of sand, some rocks, projected images? If you use interactive prayer stations in worship, this is a great time to create a journey through Lent similar to the Stations of the Cross.
Spend some time with youth talking about the Old Testament story of Noah and God’s covenant with humankind. Explore their “Sunday school” impressions of the story and ask how those images have changed as they have grown. How does the actual violence and destruction of this story connect with God’s bow covenant? How does this covenant affect their lives today? Or does it?
This week focus on verses 4 and 5 of Psalm 25. How does God instruct us today? Who helps God in this effort? The children may mention the pastor, Sunday school teachers, parents, grandparents, or other adults or scripture. What does learning from God lead to? Skip to the end of the psalm and share that the paths of the Lord lead to steadfast love and faithfulness—which is a pretty fine destination. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, create a “map” of your worship space, and using the psalm as a guide, create a path for the children to follow, perhaps starting at the font and ending at the door leading out into the world, and stopping along the way at places the illustrate learning about God (altar, pulpit, kneeler, cross, etc.). Finish with a prayer and blessing.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
To fully embrace the season of Lent, we are called to put down or get rid of that which comes between us and God. What do you need to let go of in order to make space for God during these 40 days?
Stewardship at Home
Praying into Lent is a good way to make sure that you are keeping space open for God. Make a physical space, perhaps with a chair or pillows, a candle, Bible, devotional books, journal and writing tools, and whatever else bespeaks of a prayerful and contemplative space. Make an effort to spend time there every day. At the end of Lent you may be surprised at how much this practice changes you. Don’t have space to do this in your house? Do you have space outdoors or in a favorite public space or coffee house where you can find time apart? Be gentle with yourself. There is no right or wrong way to pray—simply begin by spending time listening for and with God.
Photos: S.Blezard, Waiting on the Word, Bureau of Land Management , Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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