Reflection for the first Sunday in Lent

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 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. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Reflection

There is a sense of isolation and desolation which comes across strongly in St. Mark’s very brief description of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. Mark does not go into the detail of the actual temptations as Matthew and Luke do, but his brief narrative gives us a sense of what it was like: He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and angels waited on him. Perhaps we can identify with that isolation more readily because of the experience of lockdown, which has not been easy.

The Judean wilderness is the most desolate landscape imaginable. Dry, arid, rocky terrain that stretches as far as the eye can see and beyond. One would wonder how anything or anyone could survive there. This is where Jesus went alone for over a month. But survival is possible. When the rains fall, they form little rivulets which flow into the crevices in the rock, allowing very sparse vegetation to grow there. When I was there, I saw Bedouin herders leading their goats to find sparse grazing places. Perhaps this is how Jesus found the food and water to endure and survive.

We may find lockdown hard and relentless but if we look, like the vegetation in the crevices, there are things for which we can be thankful. The kindness of the person who makes the telephone call; the signs of spring around us; the birds at the bird feeder; God’s word which brings us comfort and hope.

Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. We know from Matthew and Luke that those temptations were not so much to do the wrong thing, but not to do the right thing. He was tempted not to follow the course set by his Heavenly Father. When things get us down and we may feel despondent, it is easy to give in to that temptation not to do the right thing. That may be the little thing, like calling a lonely person – I’ll do it later, and then later there is something else.

It can also be the bigger things. We read and hear of the suffering of innocent people in the world – children starving as a result of the war in Yemen; refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, and so many parts of the world. We think: how could we possibly affect that situation? And so, we do nothing at all – but we could respond to appeals for emergency relief and donate to aid agencies. Or we hear the voice of racism and extremism and we stay silent, not challenging what we know to be wrong, even if it is said in jest.

Our Lord overcame the temptation by relying on the words of scripture that had formed and moulded him to prepare him for the work ahead. We too can find strength and inspiration in God’s word, to help us to care and do the right thing.

The wilderness can be baking hot in daytime, but bitterly cold at night. Huddling for warmth in a rocky cave at night, Jesus would have heard the prowling of wild animals. It is often in the dead of night that our worst fears are realised and life can seem very bleak. Mark tells us that angels waited on Our Lord – he knew God’s presence with him and remembered the words of assurance at his baptism. It is in those bleaker moments we can find strength in the promises of God, like the rainbow that assured Noah of God’s never-ending love.

As you journey through this season of Lent, may you find reason for thankfulness, comfort from God’s presence, and inspiration and strength in his word.

Collect for the first Sunday in Lent

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lenten collect

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray to the Lord, who guides us through the wilderness of temptation into fellowship with him and with one another.

God of love, we pray for your church throughout this holy season of Lent.
We pray that Christians everywhere may be renewed in faith
and drawn into a closer bond with you and with one another.
We pray for this Diocese, for Pat our bishop, and for the people of this parish.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are in a wilderness of isolation due to the pandemic;
those who have lost jobs and livelihoods;
those who work under huge stress and strain in our health service;
those who have contracted the virus and those who are in care homes or hospital unable to see their loved ones. Bring healing and hope to all who suffer. We pray for the successful delivery of the vaccination programme.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for people whose land has become wilderness through drought in many parts of Africa. We pray for the many people across the world who have been displaced because of the effects of climate change and who struggle to survive. Strengthen and support the work of Christian Aid and agencies who provide relief and support to people in need.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for our homes and loved ones and give thanks for all the blessings of family life. We pray for young people who may be tempted to make wrong choices or take risks. Bless all who provide counselling and support in schools and colleges. We remember those who have no place to call home. Help us to be compassionate and to share what we have with others.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are struggling in the wilderness of despair and hopelessness, those who have lost their faith and who cannot face the future. Help them to know that you are with them, that they may find renewed hope and faith in Christ who is able to help those who are being tested.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are struggling with pain and illness,
remembering those who are in hospital or at home,
and those who are housebound.
Help them to know your presence in their pain
and grant them your healing touch.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We remember with thanksgiving our loved ones
who have ended their earthly pilgrimage and who rest in your nearer presence.
Bring us with them to share in the joy of your eternal kingdom.

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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