As we enter the Eucharistic Community for this liturgy we dab Holy Water partly on our foreheads where there had been ashes on Wednesday. We are entering the celebration of that very redemptive act in union with others who also recognize their need for healing, encouragement, and the experience of belonging to God and God’s family.
There is an ambiguity surrounding this “joyful season of Lent.” There is the definite spirit or sense that there is sin in the world and around us and within us. This is not a happy thought, of course, and we have to take stock of our personal participation in the sin of the world and the sin of our lives. Having to change our attitudes and actions might cause us some discomfort and shame.
There is also another spirit symbolized by the Holy Water. As Paul writes in Romans, “Where sin did abound, did grace the more abound.” There is redemption, and healing, and union offered in and through the life, death and resurrection celebrated at the Eucharist and memorialized at Easter. Our personal deaths to self and sin will bring us to a more lively life now and some kind of new life for eternity. We prepare for the weekend’s liturgy by preparing to live each moment more as the gift that each moment is.
I personally love temptations. Yes, I really mean that. They do not entertain me, they invite me to look at what is the good in me that is being tempted to devalue, under-use, or abuse by over-ing. Temptations initiate my prayer-alarm, telling me that I do not have to go praying other-person’s prayers. I do not have to feel dirty or too human for prayer right now. They tell me about a most human condition whose truth is worthy of being graced by the light of grace and self acceptance. Just for the record, I do occasionally surrender to the truthy-lies the Tempter offers, but I devoutly believe all that Paul writes in today’s Second Reading.
As for the First Reading, it is quite a story. It is a good story for us all, because it is a story of us all. We are Adam and Eve every day as we are so available to our wanting to be like God and even, our being God.
We hear, not the whole story, but selected verses about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. We hear about the creation of Adam, but not Eve; not that her creation was unimportant, nor that she had to be there to help the Tempter! This part of the story is not about creation, nor the disruption of human innocence. What then is this story about?
The Book of Genesis sets up the other four books of the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. The dictates, laws and customs follow Genesis’ setting out structures and strictures preventing the people of Israel from following the many falls and failures of their collective religious past. This tendency to disobedience, (sin), began somehow and the painful consequences pictured in these early chapters are a reminder and warning to the Israelites of what will happen if they, too, disobey and make their own fatal choices. It began here, at the beginning of their religious history and other stories in Genesis reemphasize the pattern. The serpent speaks to the “woman” about what God had spoken to them. There’s the tension, to whom shall we listen for life, its meaning and completion. To whom shall we listen for wisdom, for what is really good for us as humans? Our senses can attract us to making decisions about what is true living. Listening beyond the information of our senses is a way through temptations to recovery from living under protective “loincloths” of various sizes and strengths.
The Gospel is about the power and necessity of listening. Jesus has just heard of His true identity and relationship with His Father in the narrative of His baptism. He has been listening to the implications of this relationship and identity for forty days and nights and is vulnerable to His being tempted. The devil approaches him with the scriptures in hand. He challenges Jesus’ identity and His relationship with His Father. “If you are the Son of God” is the come-on which the devil invites Jesus into the world of the subjunctive, which all English majors know is the mood of the contrary to fact. Jesus replies with His scriptures handy and shifts the mood to the indicative, which is actually factual. Jesus lived that to which He had been introduced and affirmed in His desert experience. As Adam and Eve did not listen and so were disobedient, Jesus remained obedient and lived this indicative moodiness even to His death.
This First Sunday of Lent we are encouraged to begin listening to what we have been listening to for our identities and our sense of balance. We are invited to listen to the many voices telling us who we are, what is our meaning and value. We are urged during these days of Lent to face the Tempters of our lives who desire our relationships with God to be replaced by illusions and pretenses. We pray to move through “if” to “am” and from “maybe” to “thank You”.
It is quite a bit easier to be governed by laws and fears. We face our temptations joyfully, because they become a means of our affirming God’s relationship with us and our identities through our having been baptized into His and our being the “Beloved”.
“The Lord will overshadow you, and you will find refuge under His wings.” Ps. 91, 4
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