Homily for the first Sunday of Lent
“And Jesus was there, in the desert, with the wild beast and the angels”
So the first part of last week, for me,
was just amazing.
I had a short trip to a monastery that I love;
I had 24 hours of stillness, plain chant,
and time with people who are channels of healing and light.
When I got back, late on Tuesday, I realised that I’d forgotten to change my answer phone message. It was going nuclear, with a zillion messages. So I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if Fr Chris would like some quality time with all of that. He’s dead holy and very good at this sort of thing, and I’ll head back to the monastery’.
But I couldn’t,
because I knew
that the same Spirit who led me to the still and sacred space,
was the Spirit now bringing me back
to this work, to this wilder place.
Israel is a very thin strip of land between the sea and the desert. It’s called ‘The Promised Land’, and if you live there, you live right next to wilderness. In Israel, promise and wilderness are side by side. In the Bible, people are forever crossing back and forth between them.
And that’s what we do, all the time. We criss-cross between the promise-place and the desert. Right next to the weekend is Monday. Right next to calm is chaos. In Church, right next to baptisms and school assemblies are death and funerals.
The Promised Land and the wild place live right next to each other, and we criss-cross all the time.
You see it in our gospel today. Jesus’ work of healing and teaching begins with his baptism. That takes place at the River Jordan – the ancient crossing point, the liminal space, between promise and desert. It’s an experience of joyful blessing. The Father speaks: this is my Son, my beloved, in whom I delight’.
And right after this experience, Jesus is driven into the wilderness. The same Spirit who fills Him with joy at the River, now leads Him, straight away, to the desert.
Where is God most present to us? Is it in the quiet places, the moments of good health and calm? Is that when God is closest to us? And when we get sick, lose our job, screw up, have a row, is God then further away from us? Is that how it works?
Was I closer to God in the monastery, and further away next to the answer machine?
No! In both places, God was equally present to me.
In the promised place and in the wild place, there is no place where you are not intimately connected to God. You cannot not be in God’s presence. You live in it.
Now in some places, it’s easier to become aware of that. But wherever you are, God is totally present to you.
Does life feel pretty desert-like, right now? Then know that Jesus is totally present to you, in your wilderness, and He does not go away. God doesn’t know how to be absent. Maybe it’s only the desert that can teach us that.
So there’s this guy
who looks back with God at his life,
and he sees two sets of footprints in the sand,
his and God’s, side by side.
But during the most bitter times in his life,
the man sees only one set of footprints.
So he says to God, ‘hey, how come
you let me walk alone, during those times?’
And God says, ‘my child, not for one second
were you ever alone. I was always with you.
It’s just that, during those hard times,
when it got really crazy,
I thought it’d be better
if we hopped.
I didn’t leave you,
we were just….
– God says, ‘I didn’t leave you. During those times, I was dragging you’.
‘And Jesus was there,
in the desert,
with the wild beasts
and the angels’.