Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Lenten Journey

Sister Phyllis Hunhoff

One of my favorite things to do is to browse through the Sunday scripture readings to get a sense of the journey we will be on in the upcoming weeks. So with Lent upon us, I am taking us on this pilgrimage so we might walk with Jesus as he readies himself for his death and resurrection. So sit back, make yourself comfortable and try to put yourself in this environment.

As we begin this journey, with the First Sunday of Lent, we will find ourselves in the desert with Jesus. Mark’s gospel says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained there for 40 days.” Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan, with the Spirit descending upon him. The Spirit is with Jesus! Here in the desert, imagine the temperature, the bleak surroundings and the contemplative stance of Jesus! Can we last 40 days in this desert with our Lenten practices?

Then we follow Jesus as he emerges from the desert and begins proclaiming the Good News. His time away, the cloister, the silence of the desert has filled him with the reality of God’s love and he is eager to let us know that the reign of God is here. Any one who has made a 30 day retreat realizes it is invigorating. We enter Lent, the 40 days, to reaffirm the guidance and power of the Spirit in our lives, and we ready ourselves to listen to God’s word for us and our mission to spread the Good News.

As we move into the Second Sunday, Jesus takes us up to the mountain top and there we experience this incredible happening. Jesus becomes dazzling white and we hear God’s voice saying to us, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” Such a moment be experienced in our own spiritual lives only in times of prayer and personal reflection. We find that Jesus, with the power of God, is speaking to us. Jesus gives this gift of Himself to us so we can now move on, so we can walk with him as he sets out for Jerusalem. We need the strength of that awesome moment to help us understand why Jesus must lay down his life for us.

Then in the Third Sunday, we find ourselves with Jesus in a temple in Jerusalem at the time of Passover. Being in the temple is a little like our own day, when we find a bit of excess in the casinos maybe, looking for ways to find a quick dollar. The rowdy conditions in the temple are obviously not good and Jesus shows his anger as he drives out those who are causing the problems in this sacred place. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.? No one can really understand what he is saying, but now Jesus is beginning to reveal that the temple he is speaking about is His own body. His dramatic effort in purifying the temple is his way of telling us that life can come from death. Our own commitment must be the same as Jesus. Our bodies must be destroyed by self-giving and in this way we, too, are raised to new life.

In Sunday Four, we are still in Jerusalem but we take time to pause. This is what we call Laetare Sunday, a time to rejoice. We have come two-thirds of our way through the 40 days. Now we are listening to Nicodemus, a great teacher in Israel. He knows that Jesus has been sent by God but he has many questions and so we get to hear what Jesus is saying to him. Jesus says, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that all of us who believe in him may not die but will have eternal life…the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light…whoever does what is true comes to the light.” Jesus is telling us of God’s love for us. Jesus is here with us; he will be proceeding on to be lifted up on the cross for us. We must demonstrate our love in return, conforming ourselves so completely in Christ Jesus that all we do will be witness to Jesus’ work of salvation in us.

And lastly, as we come to the Fifth Sunday, we are among those who are asking to see Jesus. Some Greeks are here who had come up to worship. They came to Philip and asked: “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” So, Philip went to tell Andrew. The two of them went over to tell Jesus. Jesus doesn’t respond to them as we might expect. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” We learn that this hour marks the beginning of Jesus’ glorification, but it also marks the beginning of his painful road to betrayal, torture and death. We are fearful. We are afraid and do not want to hear this. But Jesus assures us that with death comes life. The seed that dies, the life that loses itself, and the servant who follows glorifies God as Jesus did.

Seeing Jesus is more than a matter of physical sight. It has to do with our faith. This faith unites us “like a grain of wheat” with Jesus in his death. Jesus will rise again, a tree ladened with much fruit.

And so we continue on our Lenten pilgrimage. We have been with Jesus. We are with Jesus. To know him is to love him. The more time we spend with Jesus the more we begin to resemble His image. May we have the courage to really be with Jesus in these next days of Lent, along with our own struggles, and to see it as a pattern for our own lives, rejoicing finally in the glory of the Risen Lord.

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