We will begin our worship this week with the Penitential Order, which begins with the Decalogue (a responsive form of the Ten Commandments) and continues with the Confession. This form put our self-examination in the forefront of our worship, reminding us that this is a season in which we are especially expected to consider God’s expectations for our lives and weigh how well (or poorly) we are meeting those expectations. And, it helps us to see that God, in his great love for us, most of all longs to help us through his grace to mend what is broken and to find what is missing in our lives.
As this is a week of beginnings, we will return in our first lesson to the Garden of Eden and to that first (often called “fortunate”) fall, when the serpent offered Eve the idea of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Both she and Adam succumbed to this temptation, resulting in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the beginning of the long human journey of discovering how to live in this world in right relationship with God.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains how Christ’s saving work-the obedience of one man-is able to surpass the effects of the disobedience of one man (Adam). While Adam’s act brought sin and death into the world, Christ’s act has brought righteousness and life. This is a free gift, Paul emphasizes, and its effect has “abounded.” In other words, it has spread, had vast effect, far beyond anything we could ever have accomplished through obedience of our own. Paul elsewhere makes clear that in order to accomplish this gift, God sent his blameless Son to become a part of the sinful world; this was a gift given at great cost.
Our gospel lesson this week demonstrates the beginnings of that costliness, and of Jesus’ testing in a sinful world. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit in order to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasts for forty days and nights, recalling the forty years of wilderness wandering and temptation endured by the people of Israel in Exodus. The devil, a transcendent evil being who is the great tempter, then comes directly to Jesus and tests the frailty of his human nature-first with hunger, then with fear of the body’s fragility, and finally with the allure of power. In all three cases, Jesus answers directly from God’s Word. Then the devil left him, and angels came to tend to him.
All three of these lessons guide us into the beginning of our individual and corporate experience of the pilgrim journey of Lent. Once we set out, there is no turning back, and there are no shortcuts through the forty days. The good news is that if we wholeheartedly enter into this journey, we can emerge genuinely changed. Truly, this one Lent can be a life changing time. Are you ready to carry through the discipline that will allow this to happen for you?