The First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Last Wednesday we began once more our Lenten journey, our annual
pilgrimage of faith which will end with Holy Week and Easter.


Traditionally, people give something up for Lent, some guilty pleasure we make
ourselves do without as a sign of our intention to turn away from sin and come
back to the Lord.


But in truth we have all of us been giving up a good deal for almost a year now,
and the thought of further deprivation is not in the least appealing.


But Lent seems to have less of an impact on us than it used to do.


Few people today seem to fast during Lent.


Muslims observing Ramadan seem to be far more stringent about fasting than
we Christians are.

In times gone by Lent was much more strictly observed than it is today.
No meat was eaten, no dairy – no butter, no cheese, no milk – for the whole six
weeks of Lent.


Fish was allowed, and some monasteries even stooped to designating water
birds such as geese or ducks as fish so that they could be eaten.


Hardly in the spirit of the season!


I say every year that the more you put into Lent, the more you will get out of
Easter.


We all well aware of the restrictions which the ongoing pandemic places on us,
but that does not stop us from praying, or charitable giving which, along with
fasting form the three great disciplines we are asked to take on in this holy
season.

Lent should not be looked upon as an end in itself.
Rather it is a beginning.


The good habits which Lent forces on us (often against our will, if we’re
honest,) should not end when we reach the Holy Triduum.


Lent is the ‘springtime of the spirit.’


If we look at the world around us we see the early signs of spring as the trees
come into bud and green shoots push their way up into the daylight.


This new life which bursts forth is only possible because of the dying back
which happens during the cold, dark months of winter.


In the same way that nature dies away in winter, so we need to undergo a
form of dying during Lent so that we can enjoy the new life which Easter
brings.


This dying is dying to sin, turning our backs on temptation in all the many
forms it comes to us every day.


Often this can seem an impossible task, especially at such a time when we
have had to endure so much deprivation for so long.


The temptation to give in and indulge yourself can be overwhelming, but as we
see from today’s gospel, we have a Lord who has undergone temptations such
as we will never have to face from Satan himself.


And because he has endured and triumphed over the Devil and all his false
promises he is able to help us in our daily battles.

In our study of Mark’s Gospel during this Church year we have taken a step
backwards, since today’s reading comes immediately after Jesus was baptised
in the Jordan by John, a story we read shortly after Christmas.
And as always, Mark is brief and to the point.


Just three verses cover the whole of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, his
battles with the Devil, his journey into Galilee and his proclamation of the
kingdom.


The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is one of the most fascinating
in the Gospels.


We cannot help wondering what those forty days were like but Mark gives us
no details, no dialogue.


There are endless artistic impressions of Jesus and his enemy, usually with
ministering angels hovering in the background, sent by God to care for his Son
during this time of trial and preparation as Jesus readies himself for what
would be, in truth, far greater battles to come.


What was on trial during those forty days was Jesus’ relationship with his
Father.


Did the Messiah trust his Father enough to forgo all that Satan offered him?
Would he give up the glories of eternal life for the more obvious pleasures of
this world?

As Christians we are called to live up to the values we find in the Gospels, but
they do not sit easily with our comfortable, modern lives.


We are under constant pressure to compromise our Christian principles, and if
we stand up for what we believe we can find ourselves in a wilderness of our
own making, an empty place where we are exposed to temptations, where our
weakness are probed mercilessly until we eventually give in and conform to
the world’s expectations.


And then we are plagued by guilt that we have once again fallen short.
But at such times we must remind ourselves that we are not alone, however
isolated we feel, just as Jesus was not alone in the desert.


Angels had been sent to minister to him, and just as God cared for his Son in
his time of trial, so through His Holy Spirit His comforting presence is always
with us.


Jesus showed that he was stronger than the powers of darkness as he
triumphed over Satan, and immediately he set out for Galilee and there
proclaimed:


‘The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand.’


This kingdom of God of which he speaks has just triumphed over the kingdom
of darkness and evil, and Jesus wastes no time in announcing it’s arrival.
The kingdom is wherever Jesus is; he is it’s earthly embodiment.


Jesus picks up the baton from his forerunner, John the Baptist, repeating his
call to repentance, and adding:


‘Believe the Good News.’


Jesus gives us something to do – repent – and something to believe in: the
Good News.


This is the second time we have heard this phrase – Good News – in Mark’s
Gospel.


The first time is at the very start, when the evangelist writes:
‘The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
Jesus is the Good News.


He is the physical proof of the reality of God’s kingdom and his victory over
Satan is our reassurance that we can place our faith and trust in his power to
save us from all the earthly temptations which come our way.


The Lord is always present to us, surrounding us with his love, but we are not
always present to him.


Lent is the time to give in to the Lord, to stop resisting him and allow him into
our lives in a fuller, a deeper way.


Just as nature awakens from it’s winter sleep, so we need to become more
aware of him.


He is behind and before you, above and below you.
He is as close to you as you are to yourself.


With him at hand you have nothing to fear.

The time has come, and the kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe the Good news.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Amen.