In the ancient times, when Chip Seadale and I both perceived a call to holy orders, I remember Chip told me that he thought we needed to join a gym, in order to prepare for the rigors of the ministry. I am not really the type to join the gym, so I may have rolled my eyes a bit – shocking right? – but he did have a point about the rigorous nature of this work. Living as an active minister of the Gospel of Jesus demands that we embrace some heavy spiritual lifting. I have often sat with someone, holding their hands and praying and imploring the intercession of the Almighty, as together we confront what feels like the powers of hell. I am not saying that flippantly. You know that. Many weeks, we are playing spiritual hardball here.
Welsh theologian John Henson writes that baptism invites us to embrace our transfiguration into the image of Christ. In the early church, baptism was considered the beginning of a new life. When someone was immersed in a river or a baptismal pool for the sacrament of initiation, they discarded the clothes they were wearing and put on a set of new clothes. Sometimes they took a new name, a sign of their new identity. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul suggests that our transfiguration starts in the present, as we are transformed ‘from glory into glory’ (3:18). And so, Henson asks, What are we waiting for?
Henson offers us a noble challenge.
The observance of the spiritual discipline of Lent is foundationally about how one realizes that baptism transforms a life. Created in the divine image, adopted into the household of God by baptism, this season invites us to deepen our relationship with the God who loves us for ever and with a community which is centered on life with God.
Remember that in Lent, we recall our holy identity in all its beauty and frailty, and as we approach God and one another we must consider both, the beauty and the frailty, without averting our eyes. This Lent, our preachers will examine the scripture of each Sunday in the context of the promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304). The Covenant is the Apostles Creed and the five questions which follow it.
In today’s gospel passage we hear the story of the temptation of Jesus after his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. A retreat may be energizing. And 40 days of fasting can be purifying as well as exhausting. Recognizing his exhaustion, the powers of Evil try to tempt Jesus by inviting him to act out of self-interest, a desire to control, and the attraction to power. This echoes the struggle of Adam and Eve in the garden – and they succumb to the temptation of Satan, who manipulates them with deceptive promises of control and power which they will gain by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.
In the scripture and in life, timing is everything. When we are close to a spiritual breakthrough or when we are in weakness due to a life challenge, often we encounter the power of evil, which may try to draw us away from the place God wants us to be/go. It may be helpful to remember that as we embark on the spiritual journey into the wilderness of Lent. As we contemplate our baptism, and consider how to follow Christ into holy places, it should not surprise us when we wrestle with Evil. With a little bit of luck, and some discipline, when temptation comes we will not give right in.
How do we prepare for the battle? Very much as soldiers prepare for battle, the people who want to follow Jesus need to fortify themselves. This is not like basic training, push ups and 10 mile hikes. It is all about immersing ourselves in spiritually regenerative practices in order to discern what is good/holy and what is not. Baptism offers us sustenance for the journey.
The Baptismal Covenant asks us: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? This is about the spiritual nourishing and strengthening we need in order to follow Jesus (taken directly from Acts 2.42).
The apostles’ teaching: Read the Gospels. Read the Epistles. Read the Didache. Bible study. Celtic spirituality. Exercise the mind and soul in commitment to God. We didn’t learn it all in Sunday School. Do not be shocked that Satan can quote the scripture: the Enemy knows his audience. We can readily reply when we have immersed ourselves in the apostles’ teaching.
Fellowship: Obviously we cannot immerse ourselves in the community of the first century. We can, however, immerse ourselves in the local Christian community. Do something with a group. Go to coffee hour. Read something. Pray in a group. Eat in a group. Pack food boxes. Following Jesus is not a solitary activity.
Breaking of bread: A clear reference to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. How often do we commit to receiving the Holy Communion? The Bread of Heaven strengthens a soul, not because the host is of itself particularly delectable, but because it gives us a foretaste of the feast of the Table of our Lord. We receive the communion and can experience it as both a holy moment with God in eternity as well as a holy moment in which we are united with the whole global community of Christ.
Joining in the Prayers: Prayer is a continual global process. How do we participate in prayer that is unceasing? Corporate and individual prayer both have a role. Morning? Before bed? At meals? Even when we pray alone, we are connected to the Body. Online prayer can assist us. A regular discipline of prayer is nourishing, because it leads us to understand that God is at the center of a faithful life.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
Henson: What are we waiting for? Lent is all about remembering who and whose we are. The opportunity to turn to the way of new life is in front of us.