Scripture Readings: Genesis 9:8–17 | Psalm 25:1–10 | 1 Peter 3:18–22 | Mark 1:9–15
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
Are we feeling overwhelmed?
By our own inner struggles? By outside circumstances? By a lack of hope? Long before any of us had heard about COVID-19, most people were already under a whole lot of pressure. Pressure to ‘be our best selves’, or at least keep our ‘worst selves’ well hidden. Pressure to keep in control of our increasingly complex surroundings… in our personal, professional, and our public lives. Pressure to keep our spirits up, in the face of great uncertainty, unsure of where our efforts will end up leading us in the end. Add on top of this, the pressures of an enduring pandemic, and it’s easy to see why so many today are feeling overwhelmed.
And here we are today, while many are longing for relief, marking the first Sunday of Lent, a solemn season of forty days of fasting, service, and prayer, drawing us into the story of Christ, on His way to the cross. It’s not exactly the most upbeat or relaxed season of the Christian Year, but instead of being another burden, Lent is meant to bring us life… to bring us closer to the source of abundant life.
The scholar, William Abraham reminds us of it’s history: “Lent” he writes, “was originally a period of intense scrutiny, self-examination, and spiritual stocktaking for new believers. It was the last step before baptism when believers faced up to the full demands of following Christ… in Lent we are driven back to the elemental issues of the faith. We are confronted again with baptism, with our primary identity as children of God, with the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, with the ever enduring battle with the demonic, and with the ever available resources of God.” Lent is a time for us to remember and reconnect with the hope of the Gospel, not as something removed from our day to day lives, but as essential to it… grounding us in the story of God, and in His lovingkindness. Lent is not meant to overwhelm us with burdens, but to draw us closer to Christ, our Saviour.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry, His great mission of mercy: we hear of Christ’s baptism, His temptation, and His proclamation… all of which offer to us a window into His new life.
In Christ’s baptism we find not only the medicine for our inner strife, but we also find God’s remedy for our broken, fractured world: Jesus, the sinless Son of God stepping into our shoes… leading Him to lay down His own life to bring us forgiveness.
The emphasis we find in Lent on confession and repentance aren’t about making us feel bad, but about opening us up to receive anew this precious gift of forgiveness. Being washed, in the words of the poet John Donne, “in Christs blood, which hath this might / That being red, it dyes red soules to white.”
Faced only with our failures, we can easily despair. But Christ has purchased our forgiveness, freeing us from fear and shame. The theologian, Ben Myers, in his book on the Apostle’s Creed, summarizes the implications of the forgiveness we have in Christ like this: “We believe that we stand not by our own achievements but by the achievement of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We believe that the spiritually strong and the spiritually weak are both sustained by the same forgiving grace. We believe that we rely solely on grace, not only in our worst failures but also in our best successes. We believe that if ever we should turn away from grace, if ever our hearts grow cold and we forget our Lord and become unfaithful to his way, he will not forget us. His faithfulness is deeper than our faithlessness.” United to Christ in His baptism, we have the promise of forgiveness, and are drawn into the gracious life of the Living God.
Turning briefly now to the temptation of Jesus: forty days in the wilderness, tempted by Satan, where we find Him to be faithful in the face of suffering. The path He walked to rescue us was full of complications… obstacles and trials, trying always to pull Him off course. And yet, here and all through His life our Lord always stayed true. Faced with outside enticements, oppression, and distractions, Jesus never lost sight of His mission of mercy. His complete faithfulness offers us complete assurance that we can rely on Him in our own hours of need. That following His example, and calling on His name, we too can overcome the temptations all around us. In Jesus, we too can place our trust in our Heavenly Father, seeking to do His will, instead of seeking our own way. With Him, we can endure our times of pain and loneliness, trusting in our Saviour to be with us all the way.
And finally, we’re reminded of the proclamation of Jesus: the call to repent, and believe the Good News… God’s Kingdom has come near. To turn our entire lives around to be in line with Jesus: and taking part in His blessed kingdom even now. When it’s hard for us to imagine what the best way forward looks like, this message of the Kingdom gives us hope to carry on. It reminds us that, as we follow Christ, our efforts aren’t in vain. That even if we cannot always see what lies ahead, the future of our world is Christ’s Kingdom without end.
So when we are feeling overwhelmed, Lent calls us to remember and trust in these three gifts: the forgiveness of sins, the faithfulness of our Saviour, and the future of God’s Kingdom. These gifts are meant to draw us closer to Jesus, the source of abundant life, comfort, hope, and strength, who suffered for us all in order to bring us to God. Amen.
 William J. Abraham, “First Sunday in Lent, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 170–171.
 John Donne, John Donne: Selections from Divine Poems, Sermons, Devotions, and Prayers, ed. John Booty and Bernard McGinn, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), 78.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 116.