This is the First Sunday of Lent.
Most of us are into our season of denial and our season of avowal. We give something or some things up, and we take on something. This is our preparation for Easter, our reminder that we must be ready when the Bridegroom comes.
Some sort of fasting, which has been de-emphasized since Vatican II, is undertaken as a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. I can relate to that. Among other things, I give up sweets. And oh is it hard going by the ice-cream freezers in the grocery store…and looking at the Valentine’s box of chocolates.
But that’s nothing compared to what Jesus endured. But it is a symbol, and it is a reminder for me of his suffering as well as how good I have it now.
And yes, I cannot live on bread alone. Neither can you. Neither should any of us. That’s part of what Lent is for me: a reminder of my station in life and how some people cannot even get bread to eat, let alone give up chocolate.
But this is not a time of melancholy or anguish about the rest of the world. As long as I am doing what I can, when I can, then I am imitating Jesus. Some of us can go into the Peace Corps, or on missions to the slums, or work in soup kitchens once a week. Some of us cannot. But we do have this time of Lent to remind us of these hardships and to instill in us a renewed desire to make our part of the world as good as it can be, however small it is.
When Jesus did come out of the desert, he said a very important truth: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He wasn’t saying “it’s about to come” or “suddenly you will see it.” He was saying the kingdom of God is at hand. Now. Here. You.
Yes, you. You are the kingdom, because God is in you, here, now.
When we pray, we often think of our prayers rising up to heaven. As we read in Revelation, “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” So that image sticks in our mind. Prayers ascend. But we know we don’t have to imagine or believe that. When we go into our room, alone, and shut the door and pray, aren’t we really praying to what is in our hearts already? We are surrounded, a part of, within and without…God.
Today’s First Reading talks about God’s covenant with us. A permanent state of being, a binding, a relationship with God. Little by little throughout the Bible, we see the idea that God is always with us, in us, being brought forth. So that when Jesus teaches, he says it explicitly: “at hand.”
And in the Second Reading, Peter is reminding us of the meaning of baptism, “…an appeal to God for a clear conscience…” and a reminder of the resurrection. And a reminder of the passion of Christ.
So on the First Sunday of Lent, we have the Liturgy in which each part is saying Lent is a reminder: of God within us, of Christ’s sacrifice for us, of everything that has gone before and which will come after to tell us a very simple message: The kingdom of God is at hand.
Lord, today we ask you for guidance and help during this time of remembrance and preparation. We are “. . . awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Help us as we wait. And remind us that, as he said, he is already here.