1st Sunday of Lent
We usually understand Lent to be a serious time for soul-searching, prayer and penance. And so it is. But Lent is more – much more than our observances. Listen to how the Church presents Lent to us in a Lenten preface prayer. That’s the prayer said right before the Eucharistic prayer. There we pray: Father, by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure. The Church would have us regard Lent as a time for becoming joyful as we look forward to Easter.
Lent prepares us to celebrate the greatest of all Christian feasts – Easter – the celebration of our dying into new life with Jesus, the Lord. Historically Lent actually grew up as a kind of afterthought. The Church had always celebrated Easter but learned we needed time – time to be able to enter into Easter’s joy. So we might do well to take a look at Lent’s destination to see where we are headed – resurrection and new life.
There’s an ancient, ancient homily for Holy Saturday written anonymously and found in the Roman breviary. The Roman breviary is a prayer book for priests and monks. And so this homily is what the Church would have all serious Christians reflect on as they prepare for Easter. In the homily the author imagines the Risen Jesus descending into hell and crying out: “Adam, Adam, arise! Come forth, Adam! For now into eternity you and I are one. You and I are one, undivided person.”
“You and I are one, undivided person.” Jesus says. Easter and Lent are given us to help us to understand and own more deeply our being one with Christ. Jesus is the Word of God that names me and names me true. Jesus identifies who I am. His Father is my Father. His Spirit is my Spirit. His life is my life. And, as we learned in the gospel, his temptations are my temptations.
The temptation stories we heard in the first reading from Genesis and in the gospel emphasize our struggle to recognize the truth about ourselves. In the garden Adam and Eve are tempted and fall for the lie that they are not already made in the image and likeness of God. Remember the words of the serpent: “If you eat the apple, you will be like God.” The whole creation story had emphasized they already are like God – already are made in God’s image and likeness. In the desert Jesus is tempted and overcomes the lie to identify himself with what he has – with what he can do – with what people think of him. He chooses to remain firm in the reality of who he most truly is: Son of God, Child of God, Beloved of God.
In Lent we learn to stand firm with Jesus in his choice – as sons and daughters of God. We learn these temptations are only the lure to become less – to become diminished – to embrace illusion and endless discontent. Our Lenten journey is toward endless discovery. We want to own our true name and identity – inhabit our true life – the real, eternal life that can never be taken from us – not even by our own sin. Sin hasn’t the power to break God’s presence to us. The gift has been given!
In Lent let us allow ourselves to be surprised and stunned by what God will do to bring our identity with Jesus to clarity within us. Let God astonish you! Let God say to you:
You are my son. You are my daughter. Apart from all you have – apart from all you can do – apart from all that people think of you – it’s in you that I am well pleased. It’s in you, as you are, that I have my delight! You are my beloved – now and into eternity!
Fr. Pat Earl, SJ