....if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The congruence of Saint Valentine's Day on the First Sunday of Lent invites us to ponder the "true meaning" of Saint Valentine's Day. Red roses, rich chocolate and rare gems cannot express the intoxicating beauty of Lent, but as romantic gifts sometimes lead to more splendid exchanges, this Sunday must lead us into the pleasures of Lent and Easter.
Invariably Lent begins with Jesus' sojourn and temptation in the desert. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell us that Jesus was no sooner baptized with an astonishing salute from God the Father than he went into the wilderness. In fact Saint Luke says the Spirit drove him into the desert.
Onlookers might have thought him mad (as in insane) at this response. He seemed possessed by an impulse that would not stop to be reasonable. Was he nuts, or just crazy with love?
God his Father spoke to Jesus and the Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove; what should the man do but find a place where there would be no distractions -- no people, food or water -- where he might be alone to ponder his extraordinary communion with God? A honeymoon of sorts.
Which recalled the honeymoon of forty years when,
He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.As Moses and the Israelites relied entirely upon God's providence, living well enough on manna and water and the occasional pigeon, Jesus dwelt in the wilderness, eating nothing for forty days.
Can a man do this? He explained it well enough to the Temptor, "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
Saint Paul explained it in his Letter to the Romans, which we hear today:
—that is, the word of faith that we preach, for if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.Salvation obviously entails more than the "soul." God has loved the entire person of Jesus. Not a hair of his head would be harmed without God's express approval. He would certainly sustain his body (hair and all) and soul through the trials of this honeymoon.
As we launch into this season we consider our needs and our wants. The human being wants a lot than it needs. The American experiment has tried to satisfy every possible need, desire, preference, yen or hankering. We want more food than we can eat, more pleasure than our bodies can endure, more healthcare than we can afford, more power than we can manage, more freedom than we can contain and more security than Fort Knox. Of course the Great Experiment must fail.
And so we return to the least powerful, least pretentious, happiest, freest, most assured man we have ever known to do penance with him for forty days and forty nights.