The season of Lent invites us to journey with Jesus into the desert. In this wasteland of shadows and demons Jesus invites us to go with him to be alone and vulnerable. There we are confronted with our need for power, our desire for pleasure and our decisions to act irresponsibly. The devil, who is the master of deceit, has used these principles to take our souls one breath and one moment at a time.
With Jesus we allow ourselves to be tempted by the devil. We learn from Jesus that God is the source of power: “Him alone shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” He tells us that pleasure does not come from bread alone, “but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And when the devil tempts him to act irresponsibly, Jesus tells him, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
With the help of Jesus and the community of believers, we will be able to leave our safe and predictable lives and focus more on God’s love and mercy than on our sins and guilt. We journey in the belief that God has a plan to save the world by his all-inclusive love of friend and enemy alike.
The prophet Simeon reminds us that this journey will be a struggle when he says to Mary, “This child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel.” The one who allowed himself to fall and rise three times on the way to his crucifixion has removed the guilt of our failures and given us the strength to rise again and again.
When we are willing to rise from our failures and from the regions of our spent emotions, we will dare to hope that change is possible. When we refuse to confine ourselves, and others to the tomb of despair, then we will realize that nothing is beyond the power of God’s love.
There will always be the temptation to pull back, to avoid the pain and suffering of others. But like Veronica, we will not be afraid to step from the crowd to wipe the face of Jesus or not be afraid to act with compassion.
And like Peter, we will make bold promises that our hearts cannot keep. We will feel the shame of our many betrayals and weep bitterly. We will cry hosanna in one breath and in another breath cry away with him crucify him.
Our journey will lead us to Jerusalem until we realize that the only way we will leave the city is through the agony of crucifixion. We will deny, betray, and run away until at last we are alone on Holy Saturday. All we can do is rest against the huge rock that blocks the entrance of the tomb that holds the body of Jesus. We wonder how our journey could have brought us to this dead end. We have nowhere to go, and so we stay here mourning and weeping while the soldiers guarding the tomb eye us suspiciously. We sit numbly outside the tomb of the one we have followed.
None of the Gospels give us an account of the actual Resurrection. We are told only that the tomb is empty and that a woman named Mary sees Jesus in the garden. Only Mary, from whom Jesus had driven out seven demons, actually encounters him. Like Mary, we are weeping, so overwhelmed by our grief that we cannot immediately see that the stone has been rolled back, that the tomb is empty, and that the soldiers have gone. But our journey, like Mary’s, has led us through tears and struggles beyond the tomb of Jesus to the dawn of a new day.
The sun is now rising and we are filled with exhilaration as we remember all the things that have happened in these past forty days. There have been days of challenge and days of miracles and transfigurations that have sustained us on this long journey. Together with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the millions who have journeyed in faith since that first Easter morning, we hear the words of Jesus: “How slow you are to believe. Did not the Messiah first have to suffer in order to enter into his Glory?” and like those disciples we say: “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us?” and like them we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
It is through our long journey through cold darkness and empty desolation that we have found a deeper communion, and in the end, our beginning.
–Rev. Roger C. Gagne