Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor trials in the present, nor any trial to come, neither height, nor depth, nor all of creation, can ever separate us from the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:38
The church has never had an easy time at advertising. There is no success, wealth, blessing or general good luck to be promised in exchange for a moral life. We are not dispensaries of faith, belief or even forgiveness. Our only marketing is the cross, a symbol of suffering and death.
March 5 is Ash Wednesday. This day marks the first of 40 days of Lent, and many people of faith will hear the words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” as they receive the sign of the cross imprinted on their foreheads in ash. With the 40 days of Lent we are reminded of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, the 40 days of rain in the Noah story, the 40 days of wilderness fasting that both Moses and Elijah embarked upon, and the 40 years that the people of Israel lived in the wilderness. What is wilderness? In both Hebrew and Greek, the word wilderness derives from the word for “word” and includes a modifier that connotes the idea of “apart” or “away from.” Thus, wilderness literally starts to mean a place apart from words. The wildernesses of the above stories are also places of transition, in between places, liminal.
As we prepare for Lent, we prepare to enter a wilderness time — an in between time without words. How do we find the words to describe a God who says, “Follow me,” and in doing so bids us come and die on a cross? And, if that’s not enough, are we then called to descend to the depths of hell to proclaim the good news as First Peter tells us Jesus did upon his death? How far, and into what wildernesses, do we follow?
The message of the cross, and thus the Gospel, is that there is no new life except first there is death. There is no resurrection without first dying. Freedom upon freedoms! We do not have to try to hold on to anything. The hope of the Gospel is that there is no place Jesus won’t go, no wilderness or hell that’s too wild, in order to walk with us wherever we might go. God only knows, there are hells all around us in our daily lives, and we do not always get to choose the wildernesses we enter. Jesus is there.
Thanks be to God.