I’ve always struggled with the Temptation narrative beginning the Lenten Journey. Oh, I get the connection of the 40 days, but the Temptation happens right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, not in the middle, and it’s nowhere close to the point when “he set his jaw toward Jerusalem.” But the idea of a journey into the wilderness, one that cannot be avoided, a sort of testing necessary to rest of the journey…which is what the temptation was for Jesus…well, if that doesn’t sound like Lent, I don’t know what does. If we’re to get to Easter, to new life, we “must needs go home by way of the cross.”
Two years ago, I saw the film Wild based on the autobiographical book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. In it, Reese Witherspoon plays the author, Cheryl Strayed, whose determination to hike the Pacific Coast Trail enables her to find her way out of addiction and the pain of a divorce. It was a truly unorthodox idea; not only because there is no necessary connection between hiking and sobriety, but because Strayed had never done a lick of hiking before. And hiking the PCT alone is not for novices. She does some preparation, but not nearly enough. She’s not a day or two in when she realizes that she has packed not nearly enough of what she truly needs, and far too much of what she doesn’t need. Indeed a repeated scene through the entire movie has her throwing away unneeded items while taking on more of what she really needs. And all such is done, mostly, at the advice of more experienced hikers she meets along the way, something else she had unwisely tried to leave behind. Traveling in the wilderness or to a cross requires having the right essentials, and little else.
This Lent we’re inviting you on a journey that may seem like a bit of a wilderness trek. At the very least the road to the cross doesn’t generally feel like a well-paved road. And truth be told, some of us are already on some hard journeys now, ones that will not get any easier even after Easter. So, it’s worth giving some time and effort to the task of ridding ourselves of unneeded baggage—regret, grief, guilt, a grudge, fear, low self-assessment, toxic thoughts and relationships, a bad habit we picked up along the way. At the same time, there are some essentials that we absolutely need, that we just can’t do without —grace, God, friends, and mentors, a sense of call, hope, courage. Lent gives us the opportunity to let go of some nonessentials, so that we can take better hold of essentials which will, in turn, uphold us.
This Lent we will focus on some of the essentials we will need on our journey. The Temptation will point us to the Bread of Life. A Samaritan woman will share the source of living water. Egyptian midwives will offer us companionship through the pain. A blind man will show us how mud can clear our vision. Grieving sisters and their best friend will remind us of the healing power of tears. And along the way, we’ll clear out some space to make sure we have room for all of these.
Yes, Lent like the wilderness journeys of Christ and Cheryl Strayed, you and me, are not always journeys we desire or want, but many times they are ones we need, necessary periods of focusing and testing and healing that are required if we’re ever to get to Easter, to the new life beyond. But never forget, along the way, the way of the cross does indeed lead home.
This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.