Lent, for me, is the season of desert places. I think we're all in some kind of desert, waiting to see more fully the richness of life. In Isaiah 40, the Bible shows how aware it is of what means to be in a desert—from the people of Israel’s forty years of wandering, Jesus’ forty days spent in the wilderness, or even Noah’s time atop the watery desert of a flood. So what are we to do in this situation? Isaiah calls us to do two things: recognise our place in the desert, and to proclaim the goodness of God. But I don’t think any of us want to be in the dust and dry of a desert place, knowing all about better places we could be. And so, Isaiah’s recognition seems painful, and his proclamation seems foolish.
It’s easy to think about Lent as a time of self-denial—a time of putting things aside in a stoic denial of the earthly. Lent, however, isn't about self-denial. It's about self-recognition. It's not about making a desert place for ourselves, but recognising that we're already in a desert place. Fundamentally, it’s about recognising that the kingdom of God is still coming. And so, when we take up the ascetic practices that are a part of Lent, I think we do so in order to help us to recognise that desert place. They're about helping us to see that there is more—much more—of the kingdom still to realise.
But the story doesn't stop there, and neither does Isaiah. The kingdom isn’t only coming, it has already come. We can see this in Isaiah as he surrounds his identification of the desert around us with a proclamation of the goodness of God and the everlasting nature of the word of God. We might find ourselves in the desert, but the desert isn't permanent and it doesn't depict the reality of the situation. So, in the midst of our desert we too are called to proclaim the everlasting truth about the situation we are in—God is good, Christ has come, and Christ will come again.
And here's where it all comes together. We don't proclaim God's goodness in denial of all the suffering around us: death, sickness, war, famine, brokenness and heartache. No, we do so in full recognition of all that is going on around us. The world's hurting, we're hurting with it, and God is present. In celebrating Lent and preparing for Easter we proclaim God's goodness—the loving shepherd who came, who died, who rose again, and will come again. With that in mind, how will you spend these forty days of wilderness living?
- Steven Shaw