Incarnational trinitarian theology encourages us to take a new look at the 40-day season of Easter Preparation – what many call Lent.
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the words many priests and pastors will say on Wednesday, February 22, as they use ash to draw a cross on a believer’s forehead. Thus, the name, Ash Wednesday, which is traditionally viewed as a sober time. While we don’t perform the Ash Wednesday ceremony in GCI, there is nothing wrong with it. It is meant to be a simple reminder that Jesus is Lord, and we are not. Without him, all we have to look forward to is returning to dust and ashes. Ash Wednesday begins the season of what we choose to call Easter Preparation. There is reason behind our choice of words.
The season of Lent is often equated with a focus on seeing ourselves as finite and sinful. It is viewed as a sober time, a time of humble reflection, a time of simplicity and even sorrow, as we examine our mortality and our morality. It is viewed as a sojourn, reflecting on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and the temptations he faced. Many emphasize Lent as a good time to focus on turning away from our sins and temptations and turn towards God. Fasting is a big part of the season. Many view fasting as a time of repentance and atonement, asking God to forgive us for our weaknesses and asking for strength. Many fast by abstaining from something they especially enjoy, showing their desire to seek God rather than those material things. None of these things are wrong, and it is not my attempt to make less of anyone’s traditional view of Lent. I’d simply like to suggest that when we see the season under the traditional umbrella of Lent, it is easy to view the season as a time of penance and to focus on the self as we reflect on our mortality and our morality (or lack of it). Further, we might be so focused on the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness that we miss some important observations. When we view these 40 days as a season of Easter Preparation, we look at Jesus’ time in the wilderness a bit differently, and we see his reason for being in the wilderness is not just so he can pass the three temptations, and we see that fasting has nothing to do with penance. Let’s notice three important things from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
- Notice the timing of Jesus going into the wilderness. The Gospel writers agree that Jesus went to the wilderness right after he was affirmed by the Father and filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
- Notice Jesus was led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. It was clear he was following direction from the Father and was going where he was supposed to go – this would give him confidence.
- He was not alone. Mark tells us angels “waited on him.” How’s that for affirmation.
These are important observations. Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and with the Father’s affirmation ringing in his ears, surrenders to the lead of the Holy Spirit and heads to the wilderness. So, let’s ask ourselves why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness and why did he spend the 40 days fasting?
I would suggest this is an important time in Jesus’ life as he transitions into public ministry. This is the beginning, you might say, of his journey to the cross. For the next three plus years, Jesus does nothing without the intentionality of moving toward the cross. This is the time he desires to fully immerse himself into the Father’s will. And what better way to do that than to spend intimate time with his Father and under the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit. This was a definitive triune time.
There are two other Biblical accounts of a 40 day fast. In Exodus 34:28-29, we read that Moses was in the presence of God for 40 days without food or drink, as God gave him the “words of the covenant.” In 1 Kings 19, we can read the account of Elijah who was walking to the Mount of God in Horeb. Prior to his journey, he was fed by an angel of the Lord. While the number 40 often symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation, it doesn’t always. Moses’ example shows us it was a special time with God. Elijah’s example shows us it was preparation to meet with God. Jesus is spending time with his Father in preparation for ministry. Yes, that time included going through the temptations with Satan, but after spending 40 days with God, do you really believe Jesus was tempted? Just because something is called a temptation and tempts others, doesn’t necessarily mean you are tempted. I submit Jesus may have been weak from lack of food and water, but after spending 40 days with his Father, 40 days of preparing for his ministry, 40 days being cared for by angels, I would suggest that spiritually, Jesus was anything but weak.
He knew he was the incarnate Son of God, in whom the Father was well pleased. He was completely secure in his identity – an identity we should more fully embrace in our personal preparation for Easter. He knew he was in the Father’s hands and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
What can we gain from this? Incarnational Trinitarian theology constantly reminds me that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. It continually points to who Jesus is, who I am in him, and who others are in him. It emphasizes to me that I’ve already been forgiven, that I am always in the Father’s hands, and that I have been invited to participate with Jesus in his mission of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. It encourages me by telling me Jesus lives in me through the Holy Spirit, who is my comforter and teacher, and who will even pray with and for me as I grow in relationship with the triune God. It emphasizes the new commandment I have been given, to love others as he loves me (John 13:23).
With this in mind, here are a few reflective questions to consider during this time of Easter Preparation:
- How might this change my view of the purpose of fasting during this season?
- Do I benefit more from giving something up for 40 days – coffee, meat, sugar, alcohol, or do I benefit more from adding something – a time of devotion, specific prayers for others, finding others to love and serve, giving more for the great commission, calling those you know are lonely and need encouragement?
- Rather than focus on my own weaknesses and enter a season of penance, what can I do to focus on God’s goodness and enter into a season of deeper intimacy with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
- What are the God-sightings or divine appointments I see and can journal and/or share with others during the next 40 days?
Let’s make the 40 days of Easter Preparation a time of deeper intimacy and closer relationship, a time of praise, and a time asking our Lord how we can more joyfully join him in his mission.
On a journey with Jesus,