There are times when scripture seems to run on and on to make a single point. This week’s gospel is not one of those times. It is rapid fire, brief and to the point… going from zero to sixty in a single line: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. Every phrase, every word packs a powerful message: Get ready. The Christ has come. He calls us to eternal life.Repent is the operative word for this First Sunday in Lent. Repent does not mean breast-beating and lamentation. It literally means to re-think; to put some quiet time aside; to stop; to interrupt our routines; to re-assess and adjust our priorities and our behavior. Jesus understands our natures. He knows we are a bundle of reflexes and instincts. He knows that we constantly need to reorder our lives to bring them in line with God’s plan for us. He knows we must constantly repent to get ourselves right with God. That’s why we have Lent.
As we begin this season of repentance, we are reminded that our forgiveness is conditional. It depends on our capacity and our willingness to forgive… to purge ourselves of grudges, resentments, hatreds… the poisons that destroy families, friendships, communities, nations.
My father-in-law recently joked that he had “Irish Alzheimer’s”… He said he forgets everything but grudges. Unfortunately, this is a condition not limited to the Celts. How many slights are still fresh in our minds? How many wounds do we carry around with us waiting for payback time? What a burden. What a waste. Hate harms the hated, but it destroys the hater. Failure to forgive makes us slaves to the past and blind to the future.
To jump start Lent… to repent… we must clean out our spiritual attics and basements. We must dump the spiteful junk that has been piling up… reminding us of past slights and festering humiliations. We must let in the fresh air and the sunlight of grace. We must forgive. Then see what a difference it makes… to be refreshed and renewed… to confidently await the coming of the risen Christ.
From the time of Abraham, the chosen people had also waited for the Christ… for the Messiah… for the kingdom of God. They were not quite sure what that meant; but they knew that God had something big in store for them. Then Jesus comes along and tells them that their time of waiting is at an end. He is the Messiah… the Promised One of God. Doubtless, he is not what they expected. But God knew better. The kingdom he promised was not a triumphant warrior kingdom. It was not a feudal system where one neighbor gets to lord it over other neighbors. It is a kingdom of love. It is a family where we all have equal access to our loving God and we all share a responsibility to love each other.
That the kingdom was and is near has sparked two millennia of speculation; little of it very productive. I find it more useful to frame the concept of near in terms of spiritual and psychic proximity rather than as a fixed position on a man-made timeline. In Christ we have Emmanuel… God with us, not just while he walked the earth, but as he promised… with us to the ending of the world. In Christ, God is not remote, not unapproachable. He is a palpable presence in our lives. He is near.
The mystery of the Trinity also begins to take shape in these brief lines from Mark. Later in Acts and in the Epistles, the Spirit will come to the fore. But here, we are only briefly introduced to the Spirit, urging Jesus into the desert to be tempered by solitude, sacrifice and temptation for forty days. All of which brings us quickly back to this jump start for Lent. These are precious days. Let’s not waste them. Repent. Banish hatred and rejoice in the relief that brings. For the next forty days let’s live his kingdom. Share his love. Spread his good news. It is Lent and Jesus is near. Let’s run to meet him.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
By William Hole [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons