During Lent we seek in the desert the questions and answers that have eluded us in all other times and places through the year. Yet there’s still a natural resistance, a longing to stay where life is comfortable, where we feel at peace and settled. God entices me with the story of a day at the beach, lest I panic at the first swirls of sand, but sooner or later I find myself in the middle of a howling wasteland.
God’s call will rarely be convenient or comfortable. At times it terrifies me with a stark awareness of the risk involved. But Lent is a time of risk, and each year the risk cuts closer to the bone, closer to the heart. The cross always involves a choice. And we come to learn that there’s a grace in making choices and acting on those choices, whatever the cost, wherever they might lead.
At times what seems like a vicious circle is really a spiral toward God. We circle back to the same issues we’ve dealt with before, but we’re moving forward along a path toward light and healing and wholeness. We see things a little more clearly. The liturgical year reflects our journey in faith, the endless cycle of incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection. At each new level we test our strength and try our wings; we embrace the possibilities and confront the parameters. We risk death to be reborn at a new level. Lent gives us the precious time and space we need to reflect deeply on this cycle and to learn from it. Lent is demanding, but at the same time it offers great comfort in the assurance that we journey together, that we journey in faith, that we journey to God. The demands of Lend hold out to us the promise that we’re not wandering lost in the desert, alone and confused and deluded.
Each year in the scriptural cycle has its own integrity. Luke proclaims the good news that Jesus is the compassion of God. He tells us that to be a disciple is to discover ourselves in the presence of God and of the other people in our lives. Matthew tells stories of the covenant, challenging us to tell our own story, reminding us that we can never forget where we’ve been. John tells of signs and wonders, the glory of the messiah revealed, reminding us that God’s love has been given to us but we have to open our eyes and recognize it. In Mark’s world, there’s no time for telling stories. “The time has come and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” Mark tells one story — the story of the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Lenten readings proclaimed during the year of Mark carry a sense of urgency, a challenge to make life and death choices. This, too, is our story.