Discoveries in the Wilderness School

Discoveries in the Wilderness School –Lent at Our Saviour’s

If you are familiar with the season of Lent in the church year, it often calls to mind images of “journey,” or withstanding temptation. These images are largely drawn from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, who each recount a version of Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness. In those accounts we understand that Jesus himself is being prepared for his own ultimate journey to Jerusalem, where he will face crucifixion at the hands of Empire.

The Gospel According to Mark is much different. In keeping with Mark’s style, the account of Jesus in the wilderness is spare. Mark only allots two verses to the entire ordeal:

(Following his baptism)

“And the Spirit immediately drove him 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.”   –Mark 1:12-13

If I focus on Mark’s account by itself, I’m inclined to view this wilderness time as more of a “dwelling place” than a journey. Of course, the journey will come. But first, it seems, that Jesus simply “was.” I wonder what Jesus learned as he dwelt in the wilderness, accompanied by the Spirit who drove him there; Satan who tempted him; along with the wild beasts and the angels.

There’s a gift, I think, in having this gospel account as our guide through Lent and Holy Week. Having been mostly restricted to our homes for almost a year, the image of journey doesn’t seem to connect this year. This pandemic seems to be a sort of wilderness space – unfamiliar and not particularly hospitable. Circumstances, as well as our love for our neighbor, put limits on our ability to move about, and forced us to adapt and readapt, for months.

When God freed the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt, they found themselves free from their oppression…but they were led into the wilderness. In his book, Manna and Mercy, A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe, Dan Erlander describes the liberation of the Hebrew slaves as God “birthing a people.” No longer defined by Pharaoh and the hierarchy of Egypt, these people needed to learn their new identity. In Erlander’s imaginative language, God decided to send them to the wilderness school.

“Knowing the heartbreaks ahead, the Creator-liberator went to work on the plan. God’s first step was to lead the Child-people into the wilderness. This precarious land would become God’s classroom, the place where the people would learn how to live.” (M&M, p. 6)

During this season of Lent we are invited to ponder our experience in our own “Wilderness School.” We can dwell together in this experience of challenge, unfamiliarity, and change, and sift out what we want to hold onto and what we’d like to let go of. What have we discovered about ourselves, our families, our faith, our nation, and beyond? Have we recognized our own temptations? What “wild beasts” have we encountered, and where have we glimpsed angels waiting on us?

Our discoveries will be different, unique to each individual, but I expect we will find some common touchpoints. Perhaps we will learn from one another as we share what we notice. Through worship and prayer, faith formation activities, and creativity, we will make use of resources to help us open up to what God might be birthing in us and though us in this particular time. Welcome to the Wilderness School!