Christmas has hardly passed and we are still celebrating the Baptism of Christ as we continue to bless our homes. Now it’s Lent already. Lent got started in the first place because of Baptism. For the early Church Lent was an intense forty day period of spiritual exercises for adults in their last stages of preparation for baptism. The whole community prayed for them, fasted, gave alms, and spent time pondering the implication of baptism.
Lent is a good time to think about what our Baptism means. Our immersion into the waters of Baptism happens only once in a lifetime. Baptism comes from a Greek word that means to plunge. For example, plunging cloth into a dye or to become submerged in water and drowned. At the heart of Baptism is dying, drowning to one way of living and then rising to a whole new way of life.
So renewing our Baptism and our commitment to Christ should be a very dramatic thing. It’s like we died or drowned in a pool of water and were rise up to a whole new way of life.
If we think of Lent as a period of preparation, I think we can get a good idea about what this new way of life means; what we need to do during Lent is to deeply and profoundly renew our baptism; to be submerged, immersed totally, to drown, and then to rise up with Jesus on Pascha.
After Jesus was baptized he went into the desert for forty days to fast and to pray. This journey into the wilderness is our model for Lent. In the desert Jesus was confronted by the Devil, who tempted Him. These temptations are described in Matthew’s gospel, which was written about 60 years after Jesus died. It was written for the church at that time and the early Christian community was experiencing the same type of temptations. So the gospel is a way of showing how we overcome the temptations that confront us right now.
The temptations were what? To attach ourselves to the things of the earth and think that is all we need. Multiply these stones and change them into bread. Have everything we need, all wealth and resources right here at our disposal and keep getting more and more.
But Jesus reminds the Devil, “Look, you cannot live on bread alone.” Material things will never bring fullness of life. We will never become fully human through accumulation of wealth. The more we are attached to or cling to possessions, the less we are able to develop the human spirit within us. We can’t live on material things alone. Possessions have to be secondary and give way whenever there is a choice between strengthening our spiritual life and accumulating wealth.
The ways of the world are not the ways of Jesus. He rejected those temptations. And when the early church in Matthew’s community wrote about them, they rejected them also. But the temptations keep coming back. In fact, the Gospel says, “The devil left Jesus for a time.” So those temptations keep coming back to you and me and to the community of disciples that follows Jesus. And we have to keep on rejecting them. We have to keep on trying to be the community that is different, that rejects the so called wisdom of the world. And that’s why we want to enter profoundly into this season of Lent so that we really can be drowned, immersed into the death of Jesus and rise to new light.
Certainly, if we think of Lent seriously, we will begin our immersion into the death of Jesus and this will change the way we live. We will become more faithful disciples and we will begin to extend the reign of Jesus, the reign of justice and peace to our world. So this Lent let’s see how our way of life is different and through this season make sure that it becomes different -- that we live differently because we follow Jesus.