What do lent and Easter have to do with each other? Why should we fast in preparation for Easter?
Small columbidae are generally called doves and larger ones are usually called pigeons. Why is the Holy Spirit pictured as descending like a dove in Mark 1:10? In the Old Testament Noah sent a dove to test if it was time to exit the ark (Genesis 8:8-12). In the same manner, the Holy Spirit lets us know when things are right. David sang of flying away on the wings of a dove to find rest (Psalm 55:6). In the same manner the Holy Spirit takes us to a place of rest. Solomon sang of his love being undefiled like a dove (Song 5:2; 6:9). In the same manner he is called the Holy Spirit. A dove was considered to be harmless (Matthew 10:16). In the same way the Holy Spirit wishes us no harm.
As Jesus’ was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:12), life delivers us into lonely places. Losing a job and getting behind on the bills and being without health insurance can be a security wilderness. Losing a loved one to death or divorce can be a family wilderness. Moving to another part of the world for work or family can be a relationship wilderness. Going bankrupt or losing a house can be a financial wilderness. Straying from the straight and narrow can be a spiritual wilderness. A sudden illness or injury can be a health wilderness. What do we do in wilderness experiences? They are times to slow down and wait for the mighty hand of God. As God was with Noah, Israel, David, Elijah and Jesus let’s relax and await his revelation, peace and provision.
Adrenaline junkies love the high of a stressful experience but must deal with the resultant lows. It is like a bipolar experience. Abnormally elevated adrenaline levels are followed by a period of depression. It’s a fight or flight response. Managing the body’s manic-depressive response is an essential skill for singers, public speakers, sports stars, soldiers, police officers and fire fighters. They each experience different kinds of extreme stress, but have a similar experience of adrenal fatigue. The adrenaline rush of good and bad times is followed by long or short periods of depression or adrenaline letdown. In extreme situations, post traumatic-stress disorder can result. Jesus had a wonderful baptism experience followed by forty days of loneliness in the Judean outback (Mark 1:12). Does Jesus’ wilderness experience teach us something about how to handle our own down times?
Lent remembers Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). It is also reminiscent of the forty days of rain in Noah’s day, the forty years of humbling and testing in the wilderness where God was with ancient Israel and they lacked nothing, Moses’ forty days on the mountain, forty days of scouting the promised land, forty years of peace under good judges like Othniel, Deborah and Gideon, forty days of mocking by Goliath, Elijah’s forty day journey into the wilderness where he heard the gentle, quiet voice of God and learned that seven thousand others had not bowed to false religion, and forty days after Jesus’ death when he was seen by countless witnesses. Wilderness experiences are like days of rain, with humbling and testing, yet they can also be great days of revelation, peace and God’s provision.
We all experience those times in the wilderness where we appear to be surrounded by demons and wild beasts (Mark 1:13). Jesus’ outback experience included temptation by the devil and danger from wild animals. Why? What are these times about? They are to test us and make us stronger. They are to build in us something that good times cannot, character. Suffering is good. Those who have suffered are deep and real. Those who have not yet suffered are shallow, spoiled brats. Just as the angels came to serve Jesus in his time of trial, we too must remember that in the midst of our bad times, where it seems like we are surrounded by predators and wickedness incarnate, remember that evil can only fail, because even there are the angels, ready and willing to take care of us.
Many Christians copy Jesus’ example of fasting (Mark 1:13) taking time during Lent. A day to fast is good any time of year, but before Resurrection Sunday especially. Jesus’ wilderness experience set us an example of spiritual survival, encouraging us to also take times apart to meditate. A simple rule for wilderness survival is STOP (sit, think, observe, and plan). Fasting is a time to sit and think a long time, to observe and plan ways to change our lives. Canon law focuses on modes of fasting. Isaiah 58 teaches us to focus on the result. Do we fast humbly only to end up more selfish and oppress others more than before? Ought not the result of a fast be to pursue justice, set people free, to share food with the hungry, house the homeless, and cover the naked?
In a recent year the United States government added 80,000 pages of regulations. Some estimate that this burden now makes every American a criminal, because it is impossible to keep every law. In the same way that national law makes us all criminals, so has Moses’ law made us all sinners (Romans 5:20-21). Excessive legislation not only increases the number of criminals but it also makes all of us into slaves (Galatians 4:21-31). Law has its place in controlling those who don’t have a desire to do the right thing (1 Timothy 1:8-11) but the letter of the law fails. Not enough laws can ever be written to cover every loophole. Where law fails, a change of heart and a belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ lead us towards a real answer (Mark 1:15).
In Mark 1:15 Jesus announced: The kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news! What does that mean? The kingdom of God is both future and now, both here and almost here. We change our hearts and trust God’s sovereignty. In order to become a citizen of a foreign country in this world, we may be required to actually live their for a number of years. We become part of God’s kingdom and citizens of heaven before we get there. We come under his reign as we learn to trust that loving, saving authority. How then do we complete the journey and actually get to that country of our new citizenship? When traveling to a country of this world, we need a way. Jesus is the way to heaven. When entering a new country of this world, we go through an official gate. Jesus is our gateway.
Quiet times alone for meditation, fasting and reflection bring us closer to God prepare us for the mission of being better lights in the world.