This beautiful image, from the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, is from the 12th century and portrays the three temptations of Christ. Part of the brokenness of our world — our surrender to temptation — is also revealed in this spectacular piece of art: The portrayal of the devil as black, while Christ and the angels are all white.
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:9-13)
There is an idea abroad which reduces the Bible to some sort of magic talisman. The ultimate end of this misguided approach is what some have called, I think for good reason, a kind of bibliolatry, worship of the Bible, rather than worship of God, revealed most clearly in God’s living Word, Jesus Christ.
It is never enough simply to fling Bible passages at each other, no matter what the issue, no matter who the ‘flinger’ and no matter what the Bible passage. The Gospel for this first Sunday in Lent is Luke’s powerful account of Jesus’ temptation. Yes, our Lord knew his Bible, was clearly immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and used them to focus his heart and mind. Yes, he even quoted some verses to the tempter, but you cannot read this passage without noting that the tempter also quotes the Bible right back, hurling Psalm 91:11-12 in Jesus’ face.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I am pretty certain that many Anglicans, and Lutherans, for that matter, could benefit hugely from a more regular study of the Bible, and more use of the Scriptures in personal devotion as well, including this Lutheran-serving-Anglican. But our faith is not so much about facts as it is about relationship, with the living God in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another. Our faith is not so much about memorizing commandments/canons/constitutions as it is about re-membering, that is, being joined as members to the body of Christ, who is alive and at loose in this world which God loves so much. And so our faith is not so much about sitting in one comfortable, cozy place – however that’s defined for each of us and for all of us together – as it is about journey.
We journey together with Jesus, disciples in the way of the Cross. This is our Lenten journey, for sure, but it is also our lifelong journey. Jesus says to his disciples in every age, take up your cross and follow me. He does not say, ever, in any age, take up your catechism/canons/Cranmer/Luther, or even your Bible, and make yourselves comfortable.
But the journey, as difficult as it may be, is not condemnation to doom and gloom. Wherever Christ leads, and he may will lead us into surprising places, on a journey which costs us our life (We no longer belong to ourselves!), his promise is joy far beyond fickle happiness, and peace which surpasses human understanding.
As an English Lenten carol of the seventeenth century has it:
Into the desert I was led
Where I fasted without substance;
The devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love’s dance:
Sing, O my love,
O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
By the way, do think about joining us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 in the Cathedral narthex (back of the church) for the Dean’s Forum. We’re spending some time every Sunday in study of the Bible, including much rich conversation, which I have called Dusting Off the Bible. Right now we’re in the middle of the book of Exodus, an amazing and wonderful story of God who is love, God the liberator. It’s an amazing story any time, but perhaps especially as we journey in Lent with Jesus who is love, who in his cross and resurrection liberates us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Thanks be to God!