We can see that in the past, in the life of the church, that the period of Lent was taken very seriously indeed but in the passing of time it seems we've reached a point where we hardly notice it, except that perhaps the supermarkets might have a special offer on for the sale of ready made pancakes or that already the chocolate Easter eggs are already displayed in their shopping aisles. It seems a pity really because this period of time, the six weeks before Easter could actually provide us with a real opportunity for reflection, for renewal and for spiritual growth.
The real story of Lent of course finds it's origins in the temptations that confronted Jesus in the wilderness where he fasted and prayed alone for a period of forty days and forty nights. We might remember that before he entered the wilderness we have this wonderful scene where John the Baptist who is preaching and baptising others at the river Jordan is also commanded by Jesus to baptise him also and it is in this context that we now hear these words:
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
The story of Jesus' baptism at the river Jordan is an essential part of the story of the forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, and actually shows us why he was able to resist the temptations. The end of the baptism scene in fact describes a subjective, transcendent moment in which Jesus sees an acknowledgement of his worthiness in the eyes of God. He is the Beloved. However, this status of being loved by God of being of worthy of God's love is as true for everyone as it is for Jesus. A close reading of the scriptures show us this to be so, in for example, the parables of the lost sheep, the prodigal son and the lost coin. We are told also that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. In other words we are here because we are loved by God because there is, here and now, a time, a place and a purpose for us. It is Jesus' knowledge of this, and his own special relationship with God that gives him spiritual sustenance in such arduous conditions.
And we too can have that assurance to know that even in the bleakest of conditions, where we might feel like Jesus did in the wilderness alone, and in want, we can know ultimately that we have not been abandoned and that if we allow ourselves this space to come into the presence of God we might discover that we need not despair. Another definition of coming into the presence of God, borrowing from Eckhart Tolle, we might say that, in a moment of stillness, silence and surrender to the present moment we can experience a felt oneness with Being. Tolle says of Being that, "It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible; some thing that almost paradoxically, is you and yet is much greater than you." A felt oneness; and we can hear an echo of this in the Psalm 46: 'Be still and know that I am God.'