Dear Church Family
Greetings once again, as we head deeper into Lent. We hope you found the Ash Wednesday act of worship helpful. It has been heartening to see some progress this week with falling figures and increasing numbers of people vaccinated. We wait to see what Monday brings to discover the plan for returning to more normal existence. The weather does its usual seasonal yo-yoing and the bishop’s reflection progresses from snow to snowdrops. I attach the usual link below for this week’s ‘Start the Day’, as Bishop Paul and Sarah read from Psalm 50 and speak about how we can wander from the good path God’s sets before us without even seeming to notice.
Lent is a season to search our hearts as the Holy Spirit draws back into the good purposes God has for our lives and our world.
The passage set for this Sunday is Mark’s version of Jesus in the wilderness.
(Mark 1:9) At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
(10) The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him.
(11) Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
(12) At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild.
(13) For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.
(14) After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God:
(15) “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
With Mark’s usual frantic paced economy of words, he sums up, in one sentence, what Matthew takes 11 verses to cover and Luke 13 verses. In the six verses above Mark not only gives the crux of the wilderness experience but the precursor and the follow up as well. In offering my reflections on this, I can neither match the economy or the potency of his account, but I will seek to ask what the three phases of this passage might be saying to us against the backdrop of our third lockdown and what feels like a almost a year in the wilderness.
Phase One: Verses 9 & 10 His baptism.
The baptism itself was part of a journey. The literal translation could mean ‘he came out of’ and ‘he was on the way to’. Many of us will not remember our baptism but may recall our confirmation. I was fortunate to have been both baptised as an adult at 16 (in a Baptist Church) and confirmed as an Anglican at 19. Both experiences were deeply meaningful. Both were opportunities to express my desire to follow Jesus. Both were public statements of faith. Jesus knew a calling on his life from the earliest days. As a young teenager, he knew that he needed to be in His Father’s house and be about His Father’s business.
For a decade and a half he could do that and be a village carpenter at Nazareth. Those years were not wasted. They were years of preparation. For Mark there was only one part of the baptism that he felt required a bit of detail. That vital element was the presence of God The Holy Spirit to equip Jesus for the next 40 days, and the next three years. He tells how the voice of God The Father speaks out, loaded with rich warm affirming love. The ‘well pleased’ form of words only occurs at His baptism and at His transfiguration. These were both times when heaven touched earth. I love the way The Message translates this ‘chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.’
Phase Two verses 12 and 13. The wilderness.
The form of words used for the entry into the wilderness, after baptism, is very strong indeed. The Spirit pushed Jesus into the wilderness. It is the same word used for casting out demons. It is evident that the three phases Mark describes are fully interconnected. It is not a case of ‘the low’ that follows ‘the high’. When we have a wilderness moment after a mountain top moment it is often because the harsh reality of the real world knocks the stuffing out of us e.g. after the high of a wonderful service or Christian retreat. This was not the case for Jesus. The wilderness was a place of training and discipline given to prepare him for onslaughts to come. We should not think that the enemy (Satan) lives only in the desert. We are not only tempted to doubt and to give up when everything is tough. Those things can happen any time. However we are often attacked when we are down and we can be down for a plethora of reasons. We can be lonely and isolated. We can have many of the things we look forward to removed or cancelled. We can be starved of the things that feed our spirit the most (human company). For several million people in our nation that has also meant being starved of material resources. If Jesus could stave off Satan when tired, hungry and isolated, he could do so throughout the following three years of ministry. In all those times the ministry of the angels could be called on.
Phase Three verses 14 & 15. The Kingdom.
The brief time of respite and renewal from the ministering angels gave way to Satan’s next attack. Satan only ever withdraws to plan his next attack. That attack came in the most painful way of all. The next attack was on the family front. Luke’s gospel shows beautifully the parallel preparation of Jesus ‘the Son’ and John ‘the prophet’. Both knew, all their lives, that the pivotal time would come. Just as Jesus was ready to start ministry his much loved cousin had his ministry cut short by arrest and eventual execution. Mark again with great economy declares in one sentence that John’s ministry is cut short and in the next that Jesus takes up the baton with the same message. That message is ‘The Kingdom is coming and it’s coming : NOW!’ May Lent 2021 be a time when The Kingdom grows.
May it grow in our personal experience as we enter the discipline of Lent study.
May it grow in our nation as the church steps up to be a resource for the struggling and the needy.
May 2021 be a year in which the glory of the Lord is seen as the Spirit comes on us and the angels minister to us, afresh.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The UK Blessing — Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK – Bing video