This week all over the Episcopal Church many of us clergy said to ourselves, “Sunday would be a great day to skip the Gospel lesson and preach on the Old Testament.” This Gospel text today is pretty strong stuff, I must admit, but Lent is for strong stuff. When the Church gives us things like this to deal with, I am often reminded of a famous line from St. Augustine: “if you believe what you like in the Gospels and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospels you believe but yourself.” So what might it do for us if we tried out believing this Gospel today?
At the beginning of this difficult text, some people – we don’t know who or how many – interrupt Jesus with a shocking story. It’s a shocking story that we who have followed recent news can relate to directly. The group comes to Jesus, who has just been teaching about the urgency of responding to God, and they tell him that in the Temple in Jerusalem, as worship was going on, someone came in and killed a group of Galileans in the middle of the sacrifices. Right there in a house of worship – a horrible thing to think of, and something we know all too well because we’ve seen it. Of course the mosques in New Zealand last week. Back in October, Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In 2015, Mother Emanuel church in Charleston South Carolina. Not to mention incidents that tend not to get reported here. There’ve been many attacks on Christians praying in Nigeria, for example, and many attacks on Muslims praying in Afghanistan.
It's terrible. It's shocking. So: Have you heard, this group of questioners press Jesus. Have you heard about those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, right there in the Temple. (I assume they mean that Pilate, the governor of Judea, had ordered this killing, not that he literally came and did it himself.) At any rate, this was not an isolated act by a rogue person or an extremist group. It was not someone motivated by an abhorrent ideology like anti-Semitism or like white supremacy; but it was a state-sponsored execution, designed as a public reminder of Roman power, much like Jesus’ state-sponsored execution on Good Friday will be.
It being spring break, I would guess that some of our parishioners may be waiting in line at Walt Disney World right now. And if you’ve ever been there in high season, you know that if you didn’t plan well and use your Fastpass+, you can you find yourself in some interminable line, standing next to a sign that says, "Waiting time from this point: 30 minutes." Well, it's the 2nd Sunday in Lent ...waiting time from this point: 30 days.
We are, after all, on our way somewhere. In the early years of the church, Lent served two purposes: first, it was the culmination of three years of formation for people who wanted to become Christians. Second, it was a time when people who had fallen away from Christ could go through a process to be restored to the community. Both those groups would have known they were on a journey, looking forward to the Great Vigil when they would at last be baptized, or when they could at last receive Communion again.
Now that Lent has also become, as we heard on Ash Wednesday, a time for all of us to renew our repentance and faith, we can sometimes lose track of the group pilgrimage aspect. All over social media you see people saying things they’ve privately decided to do for Lent, things that often don’t really connect with what Lent is and from a Christian point of view are pretty much guaranteed not to work or even, frankly, to backfire. As Fr. Caleb warned us last Sunday, Lent isn’t a time to go on a diet or try to behave better. It’s about joining the whole Church’s journey to resurrection. A key way we do that is by deliberately encountering parts of us that are resisting resurrection, and submitting them to Christ.
He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, on this First Sunday of Lent, I want to consider the significance of Christ’s hunger in the wilderness as he resists the temptations of the devil. St. Luke informs us plainly that after eating nothing for forty days, Jesus was famished. You might wonder why being famished at the end of forty days without food would be worthy of note -- seems like pretty self-evident consequence -- but still, the text draws our attention to Jesus’ hunger nevertheless. It makes us consider the fact that he persisted alone in the desert for forty days with nothing but the Spirit who had filled him. This was all he had to arm himself with against the devil’s assaults. It is a point that we are not to miss. And seeing that we are now in the Season of Lent, a time of fasting and penitence, the hunger of Christ takes on immediate relevance to us. What does Christ’s hunger and temptations reveal about his preparation for his Passion ? And in turn, how might this reading frame the entirety of our Lenten practice for the coming weeks?
A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson was invited to deliver the Sunday sermon at the Washington National Cathedral. Not everyone knew before that morning that he was an Episcopalian, but in the pulpit he revealed something else that almost nobody had known. Only 2 weeks before his preaching date, he had been hospitalized for depression. Gerson told the congregation, and since his sermon has gone viral, has now told millions of others, that like an estimated 10 million Americans, he lives with chronic clinical depression.
He described eloquently – he’s a writer, after all – how with depression your brain takes a chemical imbalance and winds a narrative around it, convincing you of things that simply aren’t true: that nobody cares about you, that you are accomplishing nothing, that it’s never going to get better. Gerson believed he was coping normally, but people who loved him knew different and helped him get into the hospital for treatment.