On this first Sunday of Lent the opening reading of the liturgy is, rather unexpectedly, the very ancient ritual by which the Israelite gave thanks to God for the land he had received, by offering in a basket something of the first-fruits of that land. In prayer he thanks God for all he has done for him.
God had changed his life from that of an Aramaean nomad, from that of a slave in Egypt. Moved with compassion for his plight, God had delivered him from slavery with a might hand and an outstretched arm. He led him through the desert and gave him land flowing with milk and homey.
God has accomplished something much more wonderful for all of us. By raising Jesus from the dead he has set us free from all the entanglement of evil that generation after generation of human beings have wound about themselves. He has destroyed death by making us sharers in the eternal life his own Son draws from him. He has taken out of our bodies the heart of stone and enabled us to love one another with his own wonderful love through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.
In forty days time we are to celebrate and give thanks for this wonderful deliverance in the joy of the Easter Feast. But how can we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? We can do so only by letting God have his way with us, by letting him transform us into creatures living in a new way, for God glories in human beings who are truly alive with the kind of life he has always wanted them to have.
Now, for the most part, we are slow to believe in the life that he has made possible for us; we have forgotten what he has done for us; our love for our Saviour grows cold. And so, as he once said through the prophet Hosea, the Lord will now allure the one he loves, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. Lent is a kind of desert, in which we voluntarily deprive ourselves of the comforts we have come to rely on for our consolation, so that we may rediscover our true nature as living members of Christ's Body
Israel quickly forgot the wonders of its deliverance from Egypt and pined for the fleshpots it had left behind. They forgot that man does not live by bread alone. Living as we do in a world where everything is governed by the market in consumer goods, it is easy for us to forget it too. Jesus, on behalf of us all, resisted the temptation to devote his God-given power to the satisfaction of his appetite and we must learn to do the same.
Israel was tempted to worship the fertility gods of Canaan so that their new land would yield its abundance. The world we live in entices us to seek prosperity through the adoption, if not the worship, of many values which are completely false. Jesus, on behalf of us all, rejected this temptation too and has made it possible for us to give God the worship which is his due in Spirit and truth.
Israel faced with death from lack of water, in spite of all they knew of God's fidelity and love, put him to the test demanding still further miracles in a spirit of incredulity. In our dryness and lack of faith how often do we challenge God to let us experience the rivers of living water that flow from our crucified Saviour? In our incredulity we too put God to the test. Jesus, on our behalf refused to do so, and submitted humbly, full of trust, to God's apparent abandoning of his beloved Son.
Such are the issues which we have to face in this spiritual desert of Lent, in which our loving saviour wants to speak to our hearts and woo us afresh to himself so that he might present us to his Father as a people made truly alive.