It was the day that each of my children was born. Two days I will never forget. My life changed dramatically in beautiful, wonderful, sometimes worrying ways. Two days that for many people would have been quite ordinary but for me and my family they are two days that we treasure and honour each year.
It was the day that I was ordained in the Anglican Church. It was hot, incredibly hot with a horrible amount of humidity. The cathedral was stuffy and filled almost to capacity only adding to the stifling air. But I would not have wanted to be anywhere else and continue to look back on that day as it influences and shapes my life.
It was the day that my father died. I will never forget it. How the day unfolded, a number of the events that took place. The last few breaths, the sense of quietness and calm in the room, the finality of it all, the sense of peace and the presence of the One who first breathed in life. Again a day that for many people would have been an ordinary day but not the case for me.
And for you, how do you complete the sentence that begins, “It was the day that…” What do you place at the end of the statement? Where does your mind go? Where do your thoughts and your prayers go? It was the day that…
It was the day that… the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Those were basically the central two sentences in the gospel reading for today. Not much information really. Jesus was baptised, the water was barely dry and he is whisked off to the wilderness for a time of wrestling with the devil. No details about this either, in Mark’s shortened version of our gospel narrative. Long lists of facts and information were not Mark’s forte. Just give the reader the basics and let them worry about the finer particulars, they will debate them all to death anyway, perhaps the author thought. Just offer a small picture of the scene, that will suffice. And so no details of the temptations here. No images of stones into loaves or pinnacles of the temple or kingdoms of the world. The specifics clearly were not that important in this version. And to be honest, I like that. It seems easier to connect with Christ’s time in the wilderness and recognize our own times in the desert.
For we all know days or times of temptation. We all know times of being in the wilderness. We all know times where we know we have to make a choice about which direction to turn. Sometimes a painful decision is needed and it is hard to know what is best. Too many factors, too many people involved, too many things that pull at our heart strings or our logic. Sometimes we make a decision that we regret for many years, wishing, praying, hoping that we could change it. Sometimes we have things that stay with us, hanging up in the closet of our mind that worry us, awaken us at night, frustrate us, things we continue to wrestle with and that continue to disturb us. Things that we look back on and maybe they too start with “It was the day that…” This is what I mean when I say this abbreviated version of Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness can be easier for us to relate to. We have been there too. We know that place and even that encounter. Temptation was not something reserved for God’s Son, it is something we face daily.
Today we mark the first day that, according to Mark’s gospel, Jesus began his ministry. It was the day that he was baptised and then was whisked off to the wilderness for a time of questioning, fasting, temptation, meditation, prayer. I wonder if Jesus too looked back on that whole event, his baptism and this time spent in the wilderness and saw how it influenced and shaped him throughout his whole ministry. Did he too see this as the time that God called him to begin what he had been sent to us to proclaim? Did he too see this as the moment where his living and his faith collided bringing him to a point of saying Yes to God and no to the lures of life which have pulled many a person off God’s hope for them? We will never really know but this passage from Mark certainly allows us to see how Jesus’ life and our own are not distantly removed but interconnected, interwoven, interlocked, intermingled.
As I thought more about “This is the day that….” I discovered that on this day, February 22, 2011 an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. You may remember this as it caused much loss of life and property. It also caused enormous damage to the Anglican Cathedral there, so much so that the estimate for repairs is about $70 to $220 Million. A great sum which, of course, led to conversations and controversy about whether this was a good use of money. Four years later that debate still rages as some feel that the cathedral there is the centre, the soul of the city. “What is Christchurch without its church?” one asked. While others would much prefer that the city and the Church move on. And so a new cathedral was built, it is often referred to as the cardboard cathedral because it was built to only last about 50 years and not meant to be a permanent building. A huge change for the entire town but it is seen as a sign of moving on. But the heated debate continues.
I thought about this situation more and more. I reflected on a quote I read from the guestbook at the new temporary cathedral: “Something so beautiful to come from the ruins.” And I realized that that day that Jesus was taken out into the wilderness was a day that he reflected, wondered, prayed about what and how God was calling him to be. He ignored the pull of glamour, money and prestige and pushed forward with God’s hope and desire. Like the cathedral in Christchurch it was time to push forward to God’s new plan and God’s new hope for God’s people.
The same is true for us as individuals on this first Sunday of Lent and for us as a parish on this Vestry Sunday. What is God calling us to be and do? What temptations do we need to push aside so that we seek instead God’s love and direction? What things of the past grip us and hold us back of which we need to let go and be willing to seek God’s new vision? What is it that we are being called to bring into beautiful fruition?
It was the day that… I also discovered that February 22 is World Thinking Day thanks to the Girl Guides and Scouting movements. World Thinking Day. That has an impressive ring to it. And so where does it take you? What do you do with World Thinking Day? It is the First Sunday in Lent, may I urge you, suggest to you , invite you to follow Jesus and take some time in the wilderness to contemplate and wonder about where God is inviting you to delve deeper into life. To take some time to look at the temptations that bombard your life, that keep pulling you away from what you truly hope and desire for your life and what God wants of you. To take the time to see this pilgrimage of Lent as not some dark and dreary time forced upon you by ancient traditions but rather an opportunity to reflect carefully and methodically on “It was the day that… God invited me to…”