(Lent 1, 2023)
A church where I was the rector used to create a week-long dramatic presentation for Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. The children and young people were all involved. We would workshop the week ahead of time, discussing the themes and the actions of the narrative. Talking about Jesus’ trial and execution, one young fellow said, “I just don’t get it. Why didn’t Jesus run away?”
What a great question and I begin every Lent asking why about a lot of what arises. For example, we piously applaud Jesus’ resistance to the temptations. But if he could have solved hunger, oppression, why would that have been so bad?
I want to reflect on two other stories too. In the garden, the snake convinces Eve to eat and share the fruit. Her eyes were indeed opened, and she did learn that evil and good exist; she also learned about mortality and body shame. She did not learn wisdom or discernment. And why was that tree in the garden anyway?
A favourite hymn is God sees The Little Sparrow Fall, based on Matthew 10:29, usually understood to underscore God’s special love for humanity. What we skip over, is that God does not save the sparrow, or us; God cares and knows us intimately, but we must walk our own paths all the same.
So back to my young man. From the beginning, humanity has been trying to figure out why we are here. We would like it to be for grand schemes, but what if we are here to learn how to be in relationship.And being in relationship entails a series of choices, of commitments, of embarking on one path over another. Maybe choice is the critical issue.
Maybe the story of Jesus’ temptation is not really about him, so much as answer to why not run, why not be a king, why not start a revolution. The temptation is a story of how just supplying the solutions does not help us to become wise or compassionate or honest. Those solutions are temporary and contingent. The way of Christ is a call to a deep conversion of the human spirit that makes political solutions shallow. Maybe Eve’s choice was in fact the test of whether or not we had the potential, the courage to risk, in order to become the companions of the Holy One.
The problem with choice is that it requires uncertainty. If we know the outcome, there is no risk, and that means it is not really a choice. Choice means trusting in the moment, following a path with no guarantees. St. Paul reminds his church that for followers of Jesus, it is hope that guides us, not certainty.
And finally, the little sparrow. I believe God loves the creation with all the passion of divine creativity, but we will not be saved from error, from suffering, from shame and fear. We have been given a special medicine though. We are following one who was so in touch with the Maker that he faced torture and death, trusting that God would use him for good, that his life had value and purpose. You will remember the Gethsemane story when Jesus considers his choice, when escape would have swept away all his work, all the trusting relationships.
In deep connection with God, he saw the only path that could lead his followers into a new humanity. In his choice, Jesus said that power without honesty, integrity, compassion, can only bring death. The way of life and abundance is a round table where the first and last cannot be distinguished. The way of life is relationship, not separating others into groups and categories. The way of life is weeping over the sparrow, the victims of war, the homeless frozen in the midst of plenty. The way of life is understanding that we are just beginning to be human and God will be with us as we leave the past behind like the ashes, blown by away by Spirit.
And so we sit on the edge of the desert again, with our broken hearts and dreams, with our successes and our failures, and we offer them up to the One who wants to hold us tenderly, but not fix us or stop us. On this journey, we have companions: the sacred stories of other saints and sinners struggling along; we have each other, what needs to be safe community where there is room for error, where we share both suffering and rejoicing, And as we step into the desert without any certainty at all, we feel the Spirit of creativity stirring. And we look behind us at the ashes of our past becoming fertilizer for our new selves and relationships.