Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2017
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are far enough along in Lent that we might believe it is nearly over. Whatever we set out for ourselves on Ash Wednesday has either been done or not done. We might already be setting our sights on Easter.
God's timing is different. The temptations of Jesus came at the end of his forty days in the wilderness, not at the beginning. His fasting led to His trials. His fasting in itself was not the point; it was preparing Him for something else, a deeper recognition and acceptance of His true calling. The devil offers Jesus three invitations in Luke 4 – to comfort, to power, and to fame. In each one, he says to the Lord, in effect, this is all about you – you can make this happen any way you want! And Jesus' response, in each case, is clear: this is not about me, this is about the will of my Father.
I have been alone in the wilderness for an extended period only once. I went on a solo kayak trip to the Mission Group, a small cluster of islands tucked off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island. Getting there took two days of driving from Seattle and a five-hour paddle down a chain of inlets into the open Pacific. I spent four days on remote, rocky beaches, socked in by rain and fog. The morning I left to return was brilliantly sunny, and the water smooth and clear as glass. I lost track of the time, exploring from one little island to another, and as I turned toward home, the wind was rising.
Within fifteen minutes, I was facing a strong offshore wind and the sea was boiling. Between me and the nearest beach stretched a mile of open water; behind me the next stop was Japan. For what seemed like days, I paddled and prayed like never before. There were moments when I was sure I wouldn't make it.
That was the point, just as I was wearing out, that my prayer became as close to perfect as I can ever remember. For one thing, I had cast everything – everything – upon the Lord. Second, I thought of my wife and my young son, what would become of them if I died, especially from something so stupid and selfish as my need for adventure! I realized, in a shock, how deeply others depended on me, and I on them. I struggled forward and wept, the wind so strong that my tears were blown from my lashes.
By the grace of God, I came ashore at a place called Rugged Beach. I fell out of the cockpit exhausted. I lay with my face pressed against the warm beach for hours. When I could finally lift my head, I saw that I was surrounded by hundreds of sand dollars shimmering in the bright sun, each delicate and beautiful. I understood then, in a way I never had before, that I existed for the sake of others.
I believe that is part of Jesus' recognition of His own calling – that He had come for the sake of those whom the Father had given Him. That is what these last days of Lent offer us. We may have begun some discipline as a personal adventure to deepen our "spirituality," as a sort of self-improvement, the way we might think of trying to drop a few pounds after Christmas. But there is a deeper trial going on, to awaken us and draw us into our true calling, to help us learn more deeply how greatly we depend on one another, how we exist not for ourselves but for the world that God loves and for which Christ died. Let us make the most of the time that remains, learning to give ourselves over to the Father's will.
In the Crucified,
(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.