Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit: he had to face temptation as any human being does. As we begin our Lenten journey, we are also driven into the wilderness to face our own demons, to face our own fears, to face our own loneliness.

We each have own unique wilderness: for some it is a health crisis, for others the journey of grief and loss. For others, anxiety about the wellbeing of a beloved child or grandchild. Downsizing a home is a significant wilderness for some of you. One thing is certain: we each have our own particular wilderness and Lent is about entering into it courageously, because if we can do that, it is the place where we will encounter Jesus. We are driven into the wilderness, not to suffer for sufferings sake, but to be transformed by the encounter with Jesus.

Our Anglican liturgical cycle provides us with an opportunity, for forty days, to reflect on our relationship to God and to one another. Traditionally it has been seen as a time for penance, fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and it is all of that, but it is more than that. These practices help to free us from distractions and busyness; the desert provides less diversions, less things to occupy our time and our minds.

The Gospel reading for today tells of Jesus being driven into the desert. The desert was not only an arid place and a home to wild beasts; it was the place where God first entered into a covenant relationship with Israel after liberating her from the oppression and injustice of Egypt. The covenant established a love relationship between God and God’s people after their forty-year journey that we call the exodus. It was a time of sweetness in the relationship between God and the Hebrews. But when the exodus ended and the Hebrews settled down in villages and became city dwellers and life became ‘normal’ again, they quickly forgot about their covenant relationship with God. The honeymoon was soon over.

Enter the prophets! Isaiah, Hosea, Ezechiel, Jeremiah, and others, again and again called Israel to return to the desert. The prophet’s call was not to embrace the desert  as an act of penance or denial; rather the call of the desert was an invitation to be alone with God, to enter into a renewed and deepened relationship, to re-align themselves with Gods intention for their lives.

And so it is for us: these forty days are an opportunity and an invitation to slow down, to be less busy, to allow space for God. And it can be hard if we are used to being busy, to filling up all our time, to allow for periods of silence, to make more time for prayer.

Even more difficult is the Lenten call to face our own inadequacies, our limitations, our flaws and our failings: not to beat ourselves up: but to come to terms with our dependence on God, our need for God, and our complete inability to face the desert alone.

Fortunately we don’t have to: God wants to be in relationship with us and is waiting for us to respond, to trust, to let go. We are in safe hands as we walk through our own particular desert, and we are never alone. There is a purpose to this desert experience, and as we embrace it and enter into it, we too will hear God saying to us just as they said to Jesus “This is my beloved child in who I am well pleased”.