Allow me to invite you to a very non-traditional beginning to the Lenten season. Come with me to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to the planet Dagobah in a star system of the same name, in the Sluis Sector. Dagobah is a swampy, cloudy planet far from the peering eyes of the Republic. It is here that Yoda has taken the young Jedi Luke Skywalker for further training in the Jedi ways. Dagobah is known to be strong with the force.
In particular Yoda is trying to teach Luke how to use the force. The frustration is that the dark side of the force – the anger, fear and tendency to aggression – is holding Luke back from becoming the Jedi master that Yoda believes him to be. Yes, the force is strong with this one, but he is his own biggest obstacle.
As they are training in the swamps of Dagobah, Yoda actually has Luke running around the swamps with himself fixed on his back. Luke’s attention is drawn to a cave near the root of a large tree. Luke says, “There’s something not right…I feel cold. Death.” Yoda explains to the scared and confused Luke that the cave is dangerous and strong with the dark side of the force. Yoda says to Luke, “In you must go.”
When Luke asks Yoda what is in the cave, the Jedi Master responds paradoxically: “Only what you take with you.”
In a flash of youthful hubris, Luke grabs his weapons to descend into the cave. The wise Yoda calls after him that his weapons will do him no good. Luke does not listen and enters the cave. Once in the dark, dingy cave filled with creepy crawlies and cobwebs Luke soon confronts his archenemy, Darth Vader. They both draw their light sabers and, after a short battle, Luke decapitates the Supreme Commander. As the trademark mask of Vader disintegrates Luke sees that the face on the ground below him is his own. You see, the dark side of the Force clouds judgment, brings fear and instills selfishness and violence. To become a Jedi Master one must make the deep journey of self-discovery to overcome the darkness that lies within the heart of us all. The hardest journey is the journey inward.
Now come with me to another time long ago in a Galilee far, far away. It’s the beginning of the story of the public ministry of Jesus as told by another Luke, this time Luke the Evangelist. Luke has told us of the birth of Jesus, connecting the events with stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. He tells of the cosmic significance of this baby born in poverty.
In our gospel reading today Luke turns his attention to the adult Jesus, all grown up and ready to launch forth into the world. As I read this story this week I was struck by one thing in particular: the role of the Holy Spirit. I shouldn’t really be surprised because Luke plays a lot of attention to the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that the one who will follow John will baptize with the Holy Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descends on him and we hear the voice of God proclaim, “You are my beloved child. I delight in you.”
Next Jesus, full of the Spirit, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil for forty days. Full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, tempted by the devil. There is some deep theological depths to be explored here. Not exactly the warm fuzzies that we usually associate with the Holy Spirit. What’s going on here?
It’s pretty hard, maybe impossible, for us to read this story through anything other than the lens of Lent, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that when Luke wrote this, there was no Lent. That comes much later. Luke’s concern in this section of the gospel is twofold. First of all, he is interested in telling who Jesus is. The opening chapters make it pretty clear who Luke thinks Jesus is. He is the son of God, full of the Holy Spirit. The second concern is what that will look like or what will the son of God do? Keep in mind that in Luke’s day there was already a son of God. He sat on a throne in Rome and reigned in majesty, wealth and brute force. Luke’s temptation scene is all about identity. Who is this Jesus, Son of God, and what will he do? Will this Son of God be different?
Jesus is taken to the wilderness – barren, wild, unrelenting. Not much in the way of vegetation. There is no escape from the barrage of sun and wind. Dust and sand everywhere. So Jesus takes nothing with him, only the Holy Spirit.
In the form of bread, worship and divine protection, Jesus is offered one thing: power. But he is unwilling to take this power and wield it. Instead he knows, or is beginning to know, that his path will lead from this wilderness to another, even more brutal, wilderness. Because if he is the Son of God, his way forward will look much different than what is offered to him. In the very next scene in Luke’s gospel we see what that way will look like. Jesus returns from the wilderness, again full of the Spirit, and standing in a synagogue in Nazareth he applies the words of the prophet Isaiah to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The last words of Luke’s temptation scene foreshadow how Jesus’ ministry, his Kingdom, will bring him into conflict yet again with the powers of this world. “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” These dark powers will not tolerate the Son of God’s reign of mercy, liberation and healing.
In our time, in our galaxy, Lent is again here, or at least the invitation to enter into Lent. Jesus and his sojourn in the wilderness is the template for our forty day Lenten journey. Lent, though, is not just a season about overcoming temptation. Jesus is not meant to be an example of how to overcome temptation. I, for one, know that I would not stand against such temptation but jump at the chance for power and probably not use that power very well. But I do think that our Lenten journey is about identity. Who are we? What is important to us? How will we live?
Lent begins with a reminder of our limitations, our mortality and our brokenness. In short, Lent reminds us of our sin. We can be sure of this brokenness because of Jesus. He shows us how human life was meant to be lived. The life of Jesus is God’s plan for us. Remember that reign of mercy, liberation and healing? Add to that forgiveness, compassion and self-giving love and you start to get an idea of how far removed from this ideal we really are.
Lent tells us we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. It calls us to the wilderness of our own desires, urges and appetites: “In you must go.” It invites us to see the forces of this world, the big isms of our day – consumerism, materialism, individualism – for what they really are. They are dark forces that seek to make us forget who we really are. Lent is a gift, the gift of intentional time, time to see that we are more than our appetites, we are more than consumers, and that there is more to this life than the attainment of things, status and power. Lent reminds us that we will not live forever, but that we can truly live now, truly be who we are called to be.
The story of Jesus in the wilderness also reminds us that the same Holy Spirit, who filled Jesus to the brim, is in us too. Sure we are dust, cosmic dust, the stuff of long dead stars, but it is the Holy Spirit that animates this star dust, bringing it to life. It is that same Spirit that through baptism marks us as beloved children, God’s children, in whom God delights. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. It is the Spirit that leads us into, through and out of the wilderness to the glorious light of new life, to what we were always meant to be.
So let us enter into Lent, taking only what we have and finding who we truly are. In the name of God the creator, Jesus the redeemer and the Holy Spirit the sustainer of all life. Amen.
Rev. Robert is the Rector of St. Mark’s Church.