The Wilderness Places
Traditionally Lent has been observed in Christian churches as the period from Ash Wednesday through to Palm Sunday, in part remembering the forty days Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism by John in the River Jordan. It was a time of solitude, fasting and prayer, in preparation for the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and beyond. It was also a time of temptation, when the allure of worldly power and spiritual glamour assailed a man weakened by hunger, danger and the interior as well as exterior exposure of the desert.
But Lent is most of all a time when Christians prepare to follow Jesus through his passion and crucifixion to the celebration of the resurrection at Easter. His experience of emptiness, loss and dispossession is not just a feature of being alone in the rootless desert. It is the central fact of his life; that it was given up, poured out, for others This self-emptying, kenosis, is at the heart of the incarnation of Jesus. It offered up the things of the world not because they are wrong or bad in themselves, far from it. But, held too tightly, they divide our loyalties; they crowd our hearts. Jesus called human beings to love our enemies. We need spacious hearts to be able to love our enemies, with all that that implies. Lent is a time of making space in our hearts. In and through the painful process of surrendering our small loves, God breaks open our hearts and makes room for greater loves.
This time of penitence and fasting is not just an individual discipline but a corporate one also, reflected in worship through liturgy and preaching, in the opportunity to contribute to special Lenten appeals for good causes, and in the growing practice of holding Lent study groups. So it is that CAP���s invitation to live on the minimum wage for the forty days and reflect on that experience is not just to individuals, it is also an invitation to churches to reflect on their relationship to a fundamental aspect of Christian faith, that of gospel, good news to the poor. For after all, if living on the minimum wage is considered penitential, if it is seen to involve loss, dispossession and emptiness, what does this say to people who must live that way all the time? That they are living in an eternal Lent? That Easter never comes for them?
No! Easter comes for people living in poverty as it does for those living in affluence. Indeed, the resurrection hope of Jesus may be experienced and lived more acutely and vividly by those who have little else in which to put their trust, whose perceptions are not blurred by the power to control their own environments and minimise the threat of death, whose profound sense of the preciousness and fragility of life is sharpened by the sheer struggle for survival. This is the testimony of millions across the world who will celebrate this Easter in shantytowns and prisons and refugee camps. The good news of Jesus Christ is that every person, every human community, the whole creation, is created by God, wanted by God, loved by God. Therefore, every person is precious, of infinite value. This value does not depend on the criteria the world uses. We are unconditionally loved regardless of whether we are useful, productive, beautiful, strong or successful. Our value is not set by market forces. We do not require value addition in God���s economy. We have intrinsic worth.
The Lenten question is not whether there is good news for the poor. Fortunately, that does not depend on us. The Lenten question is whether and how much we are prepared to live in solidarity with this good news.
O Christ, who entered into the lonely desert,
and who, facing hunger, danger and temptation
did not turn aside
but affirmed the way of self-giving love;
strengthen us to resist the false attraction of easy answers,
abuses of power,
and the delusion that there is any way apart from justice
in which God���s justice can be done.