Lent 2023: Welcome to the Wilderness

Lent graphic

Today’s post is written by Deaconess Intern Zoë Huelsman. Concordia’s Chaplaincy Department actively contributes to our residents’ well-being, especially during the Lenten season. Enjoy!

I recently met one of my husband’s friends from high school, who holds a degree in ecotourism. I didn’t even know ecotourism was a major. Not only is it a major, it is big business. Countries have made names for themselves—not to mention big profits—through eco-tourism. People with discretionary income flock to countries to absorb all there is to experience. You can peer into an active volcano in Costa Rica, swim with the dolphins in New Zealand and survey the glaciers in Norway. Ecotourism is a smashing success. Lush, verdant places offer one delight after another.

Today marks Ash Wednesday, the entrance to Lent. The season of Lent stands in stark contrast to ecotourism. Our destination in Lent is the wilderness. Barren, harsh and inhospitable.

In the wilderness, we find Israel. God’s chosen people were liberated from slavery in Egypt through a spectacular show of power. Israel cried to God, and God heard. God sent plagues of frogs, boils and locusts. The plagues culminated in the death of every firstborn in the land—except those houses with the blood of a sacrificial lamb smeared on the doorpost. Finally, Pharaoh relented and God led Israel through the middle of the sea on dry ground. Israel enters the wilderness on a note of victory: “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

God brought decisive, dramatic deliverance from slavery. And Israel was grateful—for three days. Then, they started to get thirsty. Their stomachs started to rumble and they started to grumble. Sure, God could bring powerful plagues and miraculous deliverance, but could He handle snack time? Could He sustain them day-in and day-out? Israel’s faith faltered. God’s incredible success is followed by Israel’s spectacular failure over 40 years in the wilderness.

The wilderness is a place of failure. It invites us to take a long, hard look at our sin. Like Israel, God has been faithful to us over and over and over again, yet we respond with doubt and disobedience. If that was the end of the story, we couldn’t “celebrate” Lent. There would be nothing to celebrate. But, in the wilderness, we also find Christ.

After passing through the waters of Baptism, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). After fasting for 40 long days, scripture tells us with great understatement that Jesus was hungry. His stomach started to rumble. But, unlike Israel, Jesus trusted God’s provision. The wilderness was a place of failure for Israel, but not for Christ.

While Lent is a sober season, where we confront our sin, it is not a crushing season, because we are also greeted by Christ’s mercy. Across the 40 days of Lent, you will fail. But Christ has succeeded. Our failures are covered by the sacrifice and success of Christ, our Passover Lamb.

The author of Hebrews points to Jesus’ time in the wilderness, noting that our failure does not make us timid. Rather, Christ’s success makes us bold:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need“ (Hebrews 4:15–16). So, on this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to take a trip out into the wilderness, not as a tourist, but as a beloved child of God. As we enter the journey of Lent, we never travel alone, but follow in the faithful footsteps of Christ as we explore God’s mercy anew.

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Founded in 1881, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a faith-based, CARF-CCAC-accredited Aging Services Network and recipient of the inaugural Pennsylvania Department of Aging Excellence in Quality Care Award. As one of the largest nonprofit senior care providers in the country, the organization serves 50,000 people annually through in-home care and inpatient locations in western PA, eastern OH and Tampa, FL.

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