Lent 1

Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection, is what’s called a movable feast, which is more than just a great book by Ernest Hemingway. “Easter is a moveable feast {because} it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on 20 March in most years), and the “Full Moon” is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April.”1

This, of course, makes Ash Wednesday a movable fast; this year it was plopped down on February 13th, allowing for the improbable and amusing sight of men with ashes on their heads buying big red candy-filled hearts over at Boyd’s. If asked, I will swear that I was not one of those men.

As it turns out, this is a good time to take heart, if not a big red candy-filled one. We are now in the midst of Lent, whether we like it or not. Growing up, Ash Wednesday was always more of an annoyance than anything else; being reminded of your mortality is not something most invincible teenage boys find amusing. But as a priest, Ash Wednesday has become something else entirely: not only is it a reminder of our mortal nature, but a reminder of how precious life really is. In some ways, I have found that one of the toughest things I have to do as a priest is to impose ashes on the forehead of a newborn baby; I have seen mothers weep as I do it.

Still, I can think of no better way to begin Lent than the way we do it. Sackcloth and ashes, weeping and mourning, a time of being driven into the wilderness. We’ve talked a lot over the last couple months about the wilderness, about what the wilderness looks like and what happens there. Most of the time we were talking about John the Baptist, who get the limelight in the weeks leading up to Christmas. But in Lent, our wilderness survivalist is Jesus, who just after His baptism, is led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert. Jesus went out into the desert to fast and to pray, but the devil saw this as a perfect time to see what this Jesus was made of. “It was a contest between Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, and the slanderer of men. The devil had won with Adam and Eve. He has hopes of triumph over Jesus.”2 While the devil acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, he attacks Him as the Son of man, he goes after His humanity. Satan claims to have authority, ownership over the world, and Jesus doesn’t deny that claim; rather Jesus rejects the deal the devil is offering. Though there are three temptations, in the end, the deal is the same: play by my rules, acknowledge me as having authority over not only the world but over you, and I’ll give you power over everything you see; I’ll give you want you want, if not what you need.

Most of the temptations that we face are the same: turn from God, turn from what’s best for us, and take want you think you want. I’ve heard it said that every sin is really the sin of pride, that original sin of Satan, but I think that every sin is really the sin of adultery, which is the sin of giving to someone else what really belongs to your spouse, and in the end, to God. Satan wanted Jesus to give to him what belonged to God, and we wants the same from us. He wants us to forget who we are, who made us and loves us; he wants us to forget the Scripture that we’ve learned, or he wants us to twist it into something it’s not. Satan wants us to give to him what really belongs to God.

Lent is perhaps the best time to make sure we aren’t already unintentionally doing just that. I don’t know what tempts you the most – hopefully it’s not big red candy-filled hearts from Boyds – but now is a great time to take heart, take the lessons learned on Ash Wednesday, and remember that even as we make our way through the trials and temptations of this world, we can live knowing that Christ has overcome this world for us. We can live knowing that even as we walk this Lent toward the Cross, we share in Christ’s victory, His victory of temptation, His victory over Satan, and finally, His victory over death itself.

1. Easter, Wikipedia
2. Robertson’s Word Pictures, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/luke/luke-4.html

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