Lent 1 :: Barren is the Desert

Matthew 4.1-11

2009 UK Trip  401

All the kingdoms and their splendor

Barren. Lonely. Dead. In scripture the desert is not a hospitable place. It is the place of monsters and nightmares. It is where the demons roam, ceaselessly searching for hosts to claim as their own. The desert, too, is the place of temptation and challenge. Hungry for sustenance, deprived of power, and eager to grasp at anything which promises relief, those who wander the desert wasteland seek to fill the void of their lives by any means possible. The story of Israel is one of a people thrust into desert wanderings for forty long years, grumbling at their leaders, cursing God, and seeking ways to return to bondage in Egypt which, at least, was what they knew. That was far better than the unknown which the desert wilderness offered.

The story of Jesus is a story of the desert. His ministry can only begin after his forty day ordeal in the wilds, being “tested [in every way] as we are, yet without sin” [Heb. 4.15]. His temptation or, rather, his resisting of temptation marks a turning point for humanity. By not giving into the tempter, Jesus, stripped of all power, laid bare an emptiness of soul that could only be filled through a total reliance on God. And it is only through the desert wanderings of our lives that we can come to understand our need for God. Realizing our weakness, we call on God to bring us through the death, despair, and barrenness that the desert offers.

Along with the altar, the reredos cross is an obvious focal point of the sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mankato, MN. If you join us this Lent, you will notice that the cross will be adorned in a way which reflects the Gospel readings for that Sunday. This week you will see just a bare cross. It reminds us of our continual need to come before God frail, weak, empty. Stripped of all pretense to power, whether spiritual or temporal, we stand bare before God and say “Fill me.”

Link to RCL Lectionary for the First Sunday in Lent, Year A

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