As I looked at the readings for the season of Lent, I found that God was always showing up and making covenants with creation. There may be pivotal people in the stories, but the covenants are generally broader than they first seem. If you’ve had more than a fleeting connection with the Bible, you’ve heard the story of Noah and the flood – the torrential forty days of rain. You’ve heard the story of the covenant shown in the sign of a rainbow. The covenant is not just with Noah, it’s not just with humans, but with all creatures (9:10). The first covenant God makes is with “every living creature.” It is a covenant to never destroy Earth through flood waters again. Unfortunately, there is a strong lobby that uses such scriptures as these to promote abdicating any responsibility for caring for the environment – after all `God’ has promised not to drown us out again.
The gospel opens up to another forty day period, after which the season of Lent itself is modeled. It also opens us up to the influence of every living creature – those members of the ancient covenant.
Every Lent begins with Jesus post-baptism experience of the Holy Spirit sending him or driving him into the desert.
Mark’s version of this time is so succinct. It’s done in two verses.“Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.”
The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. What do you think of when you hear that word? What in your experience has shaped your understanding? Do you see desert, or boreal forest and mountains? What does wilderness mean to you? Is it a physical space, or an emotional or mental or spiritual state of being?
The Greek word ere¯mos translated “wilderness” in the NRSV is also the word for “desert” or “deserted place.” Wilderness in the Bible refers to uninhabited areas and is symbolically the opposite of civilization and is the place where animals reside that are dangerous to humans. In the time of Jesus, lions and bears still lived in Galilee.
In Australia, the word wilderness becomes `the Outback.’ The Outback has been described as “where the soul of Earth is untamed by human boundaries. “ I think there is something profound in that description – “where the soul of Earth is untamed by human boundaries.” So we have Jesus being compelled to go where the soul of the Earth is untamed by human boundaries and we have him there with the wild animals.
The Seasons of the Spirit curriculum suggests this reference to Jesus being with wild animals would have been understood by Jews and the early church as a reference to the end of violence and peace between all creatures found in passages such as Isaiah 11:6 often read near Christmas, which says, The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” They believed that this peace symbolized in the animal world and enacted in the human world would accompany the coming of the Messiah.
How do we hold these images together- wilderness, wildness, temptation, and strangely a hint of a peaceful covenant? What to make of it…
When you hear of wilderness, or wild animals, is there a sense of comfort or foreboding for you? How does it affect you when you realize that the covenant made in Genesis was not with Noah, but with every living creature and then you hear the report from the World Wildlife Fund last October, stating that “Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries.”
Ian MacDonald, a United Church minister and part of the musical group the Common Cup Company, reflects on Jesus’ time in the wilderness and on a strange and lovely picture by Bob Haverluck. He writes: “In Bob Haverluck’s drawing, Jesus, warn out from being tempted, is carried on the back of a bear. His head is nestled into the fur around the bear’s neck. A raven sits on the bears back too. She places her wings over Jesus to protect him from the searing heat. It is a hard, but necessary place to be. Life is renewed. Creation in holy and whole.” P 47 Living Waters
If indeed the covenant is made with all living creatures, is there an animal that God has blessed you with? Do you have an animal that you consider a totem, a guide, an element or reflection of you? (Ponder in silence or share as you feel called to.)
To end with some words by Ian Macdonald, “What renews you when you feel dry, worn out, empty from the temptations you face? Lent is a time when we are asked to go deeper and seek new connections with God and all living things. Wild beasts and angels wait patiently to play their part in making you whole, in watching the glory of you come alive.” P 47 Living Waters