Ash Wednesday, February 14
Scripture: Mark 1:9-15

Forehead ashes on Valentine’s Day? Resurrection celebrations on April Fool’s Day? It has been 73 years since Lenten season started and ended on such cultural holidays. Yet perhaps such juxtapositions are spiritually appropriate!

Although I always loved the fluff and glitter of Valentine’s cutouts, cards, and cupcakes as a kid, it was an adult Valentine’s Day I most remember when – suffering from repeated bouts of e-coli – the doctor finally scheduled a serious surgery. It was on Valentine’s morning! In approaching days, I felt fear rather than excitement, dread rather than desire for the day; aware of what must be journeyed through before any change in my condition. In Mark’s terse, two-verse account of temptations of Christ, we encounter a Jesus so full of the forceful Spirit that entered him at baptism that it immediately pushed him (the Greek verb “ekballo” means literally “drove out”) into the wilderness!

In Mark, unlike any other gospel accounts, Jesus never even had the chance to preach a minute or say a sentence before the Spirit compelled him to confront the powers of chaos and threats of wild animals! It is only after such combat that the Jesus presented to us in Mark – who would continue to confront evil forces that threaten bodies and minds through his first public ministry act of an exorcism in 1:21-28 – could say that “the Kingdom is near.” Mark’s world-changing Jesus can encourage us also to find protection on the other side of challenges in our path, as well!

The Jesus who was filled with a power that held wild beasts at bay can also offer us a way for healing beyond our fears (like those I felt on Valentine’s years ago). It offers a promise of a presence that brings safety into the realities and places that threaten us still. And that is no fool’s joke – on April 1st or anytime!

Prayer: Spirit power, in this season, enter us forcefully in new ways, even as you entered Jesus at baptism. And, as life pushes us invariably into wilderness encounters – may we know that, amidst chaos, you are the confronting and comforting power that can both calm and clear our path of all anxieties, and protect us in the face of threats.

  • Sharon Stanley-Rea
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