In a ring the children chant
ashes ashes all fall down
do they know what they say
words that speak our destiny
now visible for all to see.
For Christians the season of Lent, 40 days not including Sundays, is a reminder of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness tempted by Satan. It also is a reminder of the 40 years of wilderness wandering of the people of Israel and God's faithfulness to them. Some Christians mark the period and fasting while others "give something up" or perhaps "take something on" like works of charity or mercy. Whatever what one may choose to do, or not to do, this is a good time for spiritual stock taking; to look deeply into our heart and soul and ask how we might live with meaning.
Traditionally on the first Sunday in Lent, the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is read from Matthew or Mark's gospel. We are given a picture of a time of testing for Jesus; perhaps his struggle with the meaning of his mission. The Devil tempts him with appeals to his pride and his power and offers him all the kingdoms of the world if only he would fall down and worship him.
Episcopal priest Nurya Love Parish, writing in the Christian Century writes about reading an article in a journal when she was struggling with her faith. It spoke of the story of Jesus' temptation. Parish writes:
"She began with the story of Jesus in the desert. Like so much of Christianity, it was confusing. Why was this devil? What was Jesus doing talking to him in the desert? Did people really believe this stuff? And then I read this sentence" 'The tradition teaches that these temptations stand for pride, power, and possession.' And all of a sudden my soul-not my mind, but my soul-said 'Aha!' as a puzzle piece clicked into place."
Pride, power, possessions. We may not be able to understand why Jesus was in the desert, or why he was talking with the Devil, or even who or what the Devil is, but we can understand pride, power, possessions, can't we. We have firsthand experience with this trinity of temptation. How many wars have been fought? How many families have been ripped apart when one of these got out of control? Perhaps it would not be a wasted 40 days to take some time to consider how these three things have affected our relationship with God, others and ourselves.
-Rev. Dr. John N. Cedarleaf, Chapel by the Sea