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Lent Reflections: Week One

Lent Reflections: Week One

Monday February 22 2021

In a reflection for the first week of Lent, the Rev Tommy MacNeil looks at Jesus' baptism and subsequent period in the wilderness

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 9-15, NIV)

I wonder what you’re like when it comes to waiting for things? We usually associate the agony of waiting with positive life events. Birthdays, weddings, holidays, Christmas, etc. Lent is a period of waiting and preparation in the life of the church. A more challenging form of waiting. A time when we’re encouraged to deny ourselves, so we rely more on God.

I want to suggest that this year’s observing of Lent should be more poignant. It was just over a year ago that our world forever changed with the arrival of Covid-19. Who could have believed it? During the months that followed, we experienced the agony of waiting. Waiting for sorrow and loss to stop. Waiting for lockdown to be over. Waiting for a vaccine to be found. As we struggled from day to day, I think we all discovered a new agony in waiting. One that many are still living through and struggling with. We’re thankful that Lent makes us look to Jesus.

In 325AD the Council of Nicea decided to encourage a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. Interestingly, it was a time of preparation of candidates for baptism and a time of penance for ‘grievous sinners’ who had been excluded from communion and required restoration. In these early centuries, fasting rules were strict. One meal a day was allowed in the evening, and meat, fish, eggs, and butter were forbidden. Today fasting can be much more practical. People fasting from TV, social media, their phones, and even from gossip and negativity. There’s a thought!

According to the lectionary our focus for this week’s Lent reflection is Mark 1:9-15.

We have the remarkable account of Jesus being baptised by John in the Jordan, and Him being filled by the Spirit. Baptism is the outward sign of the washing away of our sins. Jesus had no sin to be dealt with. So why be baptized? To fully associate with us and to ‘fulfil all righteousness. (Matthew 3v15) As Jesus was baptised the heavens were torn open, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. This was the main distinguishing factor for John the Baptist. The One on whom the Spirit descended and remained was the Messiah. (John 1v32-34) The Holy Spirit felt totally at home in Jesus. A way of life that we seek to emulate.

As soon as Jesus is baptised, He is immediately affirmed by His Father. (Mark 1:11) He hadn’t preached a sermon, He hadn’t performed a miracle, but He was living in total obedience to His Father. This is a helpful and healthy reminder for us. We don’t work towards our Father’s affirmation; we live from it. As we begin our journey of Lent let me remind you that God would say to you today, ‘You are my Son, my Daughter, and I love you and am pleased with you!’ 

Modern feel-good theology would have us believe that everything would be plain sailing for Jesus from here on in. Not so. His baptism of love and life would be followed by a baptism of fire. ‘At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan’. (Mark 1:12-13) Here we have the timing of lent and the test of lent. In a world of self-centeredness and self-serving, God invites us to deny ourselves. If we do, our self-denial will lead us to know more of God’s power. Not human wisdom, but God’s will and God’s way.

Having had His own experience of Lent, Jesus begins His ministry with gusto. He makes His way into Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. His message was that a key part of seeing and experiencing the Good News of the Kingdom, is that we first of all must own the bad news about ourselves. We have sinned. We need to be forgiven. So in this first Sunday of Lent, let’s repent and believe the Good News!

The Rev Tommy MacNeil is minister at Stornoway: Martin's Memorial Church.