Remember the Lord’s Goodness
First Sunday of Lent. Fr Nicholas Crowe suggests an exercise for us to begin Lent.
Moses gives some interesting advice in our first reading. He tells the people: when you finally claim the land that God has promised you and have begun to harvest the first fruits of its soil bring these first fruits to the altar and offer them up to God as a gift. And as you do so, testify. Testify before the priest and the people. Begin by reminding yourself where you came from; then, remind yourself how your life has changed, the impact God has had on your life. Finally, remind yourself of the good things that you have in your life now because of your friendship with God.
Moses wants his people to remember: he wants them to remember the goodness of God, he wants them to thank God, and he wants them to testify – witness – to the good things that God has done in their lives. St. Paul asks the same from the first Christians in our second reading: ‘By confessing with your lips you are saved’. You might already know that the English word ‘salvation’ comes from the latin word ‘salus’ which means health: it is where we get our English words ‘salve’ and salutary from. To be saved is to be made healthy. To be saved is to be made better after the sickness of sin. Ultimately our full healing will happen in the next life when we will become like God as we see him as he really is. But whilst this salvation Christ is completed in heaven it begins here and now and, according to St. Paul, bearing witness is part of the healing process. Like Moses, St. Paul thinks it is good for us, and not just the people around us, to remember and share the good things that God has done in my life.
Why is that? Here is one thought: so often we lose the joy that is meant for us as God’s beloved children and end up in situations and behaviour that are inappropriate for the sons and daughters of light, not because we have intentionally turned away from God, but simply because we have forgotten his goodness. We have allowed the Good News to slide from the front of our minds where it can shape our choices and our emotions and our thoughts, to the back of our minds where it can so easily become buried. When this happens, we allow other priorities than the Gospel to loom larger in our consciousness and we become more easily distracted from what is most important by desires and needs that are more immediate, perhaps seem more urgent, perhaps are more instantly gratifying.
In contrast, when we remember the Lord, either through our own testimony or through hearing the testimony of others, the Good News is brought right back to the front of our consciousness. And when the Gospel is at the front of our minds, we are more able to keep things in perspective, more able to choose the right path, more able to live in hope with our thoughts and emotions under control. It is good for us to be reminded of the victory we share through our union with Jesus.
We see the beginnings of this victory and the power of a mind shaped by God in our Gospel reading. Jesus goes out into the desert to confront Satan. Satan tries to tempt him, tries to turn him away from his mission. It is the devil tempting in our Gospel reading, but Jesus is on the front foot. Jesus is victorious over the enemy’s wiles because his mind heart and mind are fixed on God. And this first victory sets the tone for the rest of the Gospel and of course the ultimate victory of the love and obedience of the cross which we share in through faith and the Sacraments.
In this season of Lent we follow Jesus into the desert for forty days and forty nights. Like Jesus we go on the front foot and we confront the sources of sin and temptation in our lives empowered by the Spirit and making full use of the tools that the Spirit gives us for this struggle: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All of these things are meant to help us remember the Lord and his Goodness. They are meant to help us bring what is most important, our friendship with God, to the front of our minds.
But our readings this Sunday remind us that there is one further tool put at our disposal by the Spirt: the healing and saving power of testimony. So I challenge you this Lent: carve out some time to follow the advice of Moses and St. Paul. Perhaps take a pen and paper and remind yourself of where you have come from, the changes and blessing that God has worked in your life, and the good things that you have now. Perhaps look through your Bible, think about whether there is a story or a verse that illuminates or resonates with your experience of God. Bring the remembrance of God to the front of your mind this lent where it can shape your thoughts, emotions and choices. And once you have brought this story to mind, share it with someone else. Tell your husband, your wife, your brothers, sisters, friends. Be strengthened by the memory of the goodness of God working in your life; and strengthen someone else by sharing that story.
Image: detail from a Spanish fresco of the temptation of Christ by the devil at the Metropolitan Museum of Art