“then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. and after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. and the tempter came and said to him, “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
but he answered, “it is written, “‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘he will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “again it is written, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. and he said to him, “all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
then Jesus said to him, “be gone, satan! for it is written, “‘you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.”
(matthew 4:1-11, esv)
happy easter everyone! i pray that the joy found in his resurrection can be found overflowing in you leading you to place your hope in the God who is still at work in our world reconciling, redeeming, and restoring all things into what will be a magnificent future!
Jesus is risen!! praise the God that lives!!
to wrap up, so to speak, this portion of the church’s calendar, i wanted to share a few of my thoughts from the lenten season. while i don’t come from an extremely liturgically-oriented faith community, i have come to find this time of the year very meaningful. growing up, i was accustomed to only celebrating christmas and easter. in fact, i was so clueless about there even being any other events or holidays on the church calendar until i went to an e.l.c.a lutheran college.
my college years were seasoned by the aforementioned lutheran culture, which is rich in liturgy. it was here that i learned of lent. the last decade of my life has been quite the learning experience as i have allowed the richness of that lutheran heritage to find root in the expression of my faith, well past my involvement in the lutheran world.
since college, i have (sometimes) participated in the lenten disciplines. this year was one such year. so as many do, i gave up something for the 40 days that precede easter. now, as i understand it (no claim to accuracy), this is where we remember, and join Jesus in his re-enactment of israel’s wandering in the desert. it is a time where we learn dependence upon God in the face of great temptation. Jesus was tempted by the devil, and he overcame. indoing so, he proves both his quality and demonstrates dependence upon God. thank God!
while it has never been my intention to prove my worth to God (at least in theory), it has been my intention to follow Jesus’ example of extreme dependence upon the Father for how to live. so for me, this discipline, like all disciplines, is about learning to attune our heart strings and mind’s eyes to the voice and face of God, the very being in which we ought to depend upon for all things.
so what was my experience like this lenten season? what did i learn?
for lent, i gave up all alcohol. no beer. no wine. no mixed drinks. nada. but to put in context my relationship with alcohol, i should probably briefly explain my history with it. as an adolescent, i really didn’t participate in the underage drinking thing. maybe once or twice. i had plenty of access to it, so that wasn’t the issue. i was just interested in other things like sports, girls, and being involved in my church youth program (where girls existed). in college, drinking wasn’t that big of a deal for me either. on rare occasions i would have a drink or two with some friends but once again, i was mostly busy with school, campus ministries, and with football.
i would probably sum up myself as the son who stayed home with the father while the prodigal son went off and lived irresponsibly. the story of the prodigal son has always been one that i have resonated with but during seminary i found it to take hold over me in a much deeper way. my father passed away while i was in seminary and one of the things that i mourned was that i felt disconnected from my own earthly father because i wasn’t like him. my own father was actually of the prodigal variety himself, much like my brother. i’ve always felt like i was different from both of them. in the event of my father’s death, i really felt that disconnection from him and wanted to find ways to connect with him, to be his son.
it just so happens that my father was a functional alcoholic. it seems to me that in the event of my father’s death, i took to drinking more than i had ever done in the past. i’m sure my version of “drinking” still looks more like the good son than that of the prodigal, but for me, it was rooted in something unhealthy. it has been about trying to find identity and connection to who i am. in part, alcohol has been a way to try and tap into (no pun intended) my family and to where i belong. i wanted people to see me as my father’s son.
i certainly could share with you other ways i’ve tried to make that connection with my father since his death, such as in trying to ride his dirt bike and discovering the hard way that i am not my father, but those are stories for another time.
so back to lent and no alcohol. i gave up alcohol because i think i’ve been realizing all that i’ve just been writing about. i was trying to secure my identity in my earthly father, rather than in my heavenly Father. i was depending upon alcohol to act as some sort of activity that would transport me to a place of fulfillment.
so for me, this lenten season has been about asking myself to whom does it really matter that i belong?
giving up alcohol for lent has been about reorienting myself to depend upon God for all things, including my identity. during that time, there were times where i wanted to have a cold one with members of my family. this urge of course being rooted in trying to get them to think of me as “joe’s boy” was very present and real. but because i was self-imposing this discipline upon myself i was forced to say no and to acknowledge to them why i wouldn’t be participating in a drink. it caused me to have to think about my identity when i was with them.
of course, there were also times where i was dealing with difficult situations and really wanted to have a drink to relax and distract me. instead i remembered my commitment and why i was doing this: to focus upon the God that is present in the ebb and flow of life. now, i would be lying if i told you that remembering why i was doing this made it easy. there were times when i was annoyed with my commitment. there were times when i really wanted to break it. but i hung in there and the more that i did so the easier it got. God was with me.
it got easier, not because it would have been a shame to come as far as i had before each temptation to then break it, but because i had experienced dependence upon God with each temptation which taught me how to overcome it. i was learning what it was like to depend upon God rather than in a libation.
so Jesus has conquered death by being raised from the dead. where do we go from here, post-easter?
at sun down yesterday, i had a glass of wine. it was a moment that i savored. but it was not because i was parched looking for something that would quench my thirst. it was simply because in Christ, i have the freedom to partake in it. it was a sweet glass of wine that very much was a celebration to what i had learned. it was about learning to be dependent upon God for all things.
as we march on toward the ascension and pentecost within the church calendar i take with me my experience of how to depend upon God. i’ve experienced what it looks like to depend upon God and how to say no to anything that tries to be a crutch and promise life and fulfillment and to simply get me through it all. while this lenten discipline cannot promise me that i will now forever more be able to conquer temptation, it has been a useful tool that will increase the likelihood that i will be able engage such temptation in the future by turning to God. indeed, engaging again in this lenten practice (no matter what i give up) can be a useful tool to recalibrate my mind to God and is one that i certainly will take up again in future lenten seasons.
it is in the death of my dependence upon alcohol that a resurrection and corresponding new life is possible within this life now and not just in the life to come. God is at work now and i should live as though that is the case. it is a life dependent upon God in everyday life as well as in the resurrection of the dead in the life to come.
May the God of all hope be whom we turn to to sustain us and keep us!
Happy Easter my friends!!