Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
It’s the First Sunday of Lent: Temptations in the Wilderness, Paul waxing eloquently on the depravity of humankind, the first man and woman give into temptation and are embarrassed – and I find myself listening and meditating on Mahler 2, often called “Resurrection.” Mahler of course would have none of it. But then he was the one who put texts to music that pleadingly beg for resurrection and immortality (which are not exactly the same thing). If it seems odd to focus on resurrection this early in the Lenten game, it strikes me as even more peculiar to dwell on things like temptation, the depravity of humankind and original sin – the latter not easily attested to in scripture, and most certainly would have been anathema to Jesus and his early Jewish followers.
Even without the implications of how the space-time continuum of post-relativity physics it seems to me that to split up the life, death and resurrection of Jesus into anything more than one continuous event is bound to be problematic. Even more so are attempts to link any sort of doctrine like original sin to the singularity of the Jesus event . Jesus was about right practices over against notions of right belief. Original sin? The Bible and scriptures of Jesus and his followers is unequivocal that male and female we are created in the image of God, that God’s word is very near in our heart and in our mouth so that “we can do it,” we have free choice to choose life or death, blessings or curses, and exemplars like Job demonstrate the human capability to resist all temptations and depravations of Satan in remaining loyal to the God of Sara and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah and Jacob, the God of Jesus and all the apostles, themselves exemplars of our God given capability to do right and do good.
How I see Jesus and his forty days in the wilderness is a time of Sabbath, Reflection and Return – a return to where it all begins, forty years in which God makes a people out of a rag-tag group of escapees from slavery in the empire of Pharaoh who it turns out is simply a placeholder for Satan. They become a people who are themselves to be exemplars – God’s demonstration community of what it means to be loved by God, what it means to be a people who reflect the light of imago Dei, the image of God, of what it means to have the freedom to choose life and to choose to do good.
Jesus had just asked to receive the baptism of John along with all the community of Jerusalem and all the community of all of Judea. As he comes up out of the water there is an off-stage voice, “You are my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Immediately, we are told, the Spirit, the Ruach, the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God compels him to return to the wilderness to reflect on what it means to be God’s Beloved. What it means that god is well pleased with you.
So much is made of the temptations, but it all boils down to great humility. All three temptations are temptations to become great, to become powerful, to become the king of the earth. Jesus says no. That is not what it means to be created in the image of God. That is not what it means to be God’s beloved. That is not what it means to be God’s demonstration community. Humility in serving God and serving others is.
This is important to grasp. All the temptations that the Church has given in to are not characteristics of being God’s demonstration community. Declaring all persons, every single baby, depraved and sinful by association with Adam and Eve cannot possibly be what the man who shared meals with every kind of sinner came to proclaim. He never held even the slightest pretention to want people to kneel at his feet and worship him. Indeed, he continually asks people to stand up and walk, to follow him, to walk with him in his way – the way of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Which way leads directly to certain death and beyond to most surprisingly resurrection – which sadly is becoming a network TV show in the midst of our Lenten journey. Talk about missing the point of his forty day period of return and reflection!
But I digress. So as the first Sunday of Lent unfolds the complex structure of Mahler’s Second Symphony unfolds as well. And whether or not Mahler intended it to be “Resurrection,” it conveys in sound and a minimum of text what that moment of resurrection may have been like. There is outlandish bombast followed by ethereal, otherworldly melody, and words of dust returning to where it comes from after a “short rest.”
“You are sown so that you my bloom again! The Lord of the harvest goes and gathers the sheaves – us, who died!” – Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
These words seem to quietly emanate out of absolute silence, slowly, gaining strength from a large chorus of voices that seem capable of the tiniest of pianissimo humanly possible. The vibrations of their voicing of these words in a language I cannot understand (German) send my heart, mind, soul back back back into wherever the stardust comes from to embody whatever it is that we are here in this place, in this time-space continuum. The crescendo as the Mahler 2 reaches its climax soars upward and outward as no doubt it must have been in that eternal moment that stunned the women into eternal silence, caused the Roman guards to fall over as if dead, that moment that was all at once like a thundering earthquake on the one hand and the silence of a still small voice on the other.
Of all attempts at theologizing, describing, and narrating what happens in that space-time continuum outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem it may be only music that even comes close to giving some approximate sense of what it is like. What it is all about.
I am grateful to live at a time and place where I can say these things and not be branded a heretic by the very church in which I have received Holy Orders. Just a few hundred years ago and it very likely would be otherwise. So perhaps progress is being made in becoming the demonstration community God wants us to be. Perhaps the folly of doctrinal correctness is slowly giving way to a movement toward right practices in following in the way – movement toward light, the primal light that shines in the darkness urging us to accept our imago Dei, to accept our belovedness, accept that God is well pleased with us and continue from there to take Sabbath time to return and reflect on how we might emulate the kind of humility Jesus demonstrates in his momentary encounter with Satan. “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” Perhaps when the Church learns the lesson of the forty days angels will come and wait on us as well. Amen.