Throughout the Lenten season, we’ll be posting reflections for holy days and Sundays. These reflections are gleaned from Lenten reflection booklets which Pax Christi USA has been publishing for over 40 years, and their messages ring as true now as they did when they were first written. Click here to see all reflections as they are posted as well as links to other Lenten resources on our Lent 2021 webpage.
Today’s reflection is from M. Shawn Copeland. Dr. Copeland is a retired American womanist and Black Catholic theologian. She is professor emerita of theology at Boston College. Her research interests converge around issues of theological and philosophical anthropology and political theology, as well as African-American intellectual history. Copeland is a former convenor of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Her most recent book is Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (2018).
If you are looking for a daily reflection booklet specially curated for Lent, you can purchase and download this year’s special collector’s edition e-booklet, The Arc Bends Towards Justice: Reflections for Lent 2021 for just $2.00. Read more about the booklet at this link or click here to order and download now.
reflection for THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, FEB. 21, 2021
by M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.
The reign of God is at hand. (Mk 1:15)
The lectionary reading for the first Sunday of Lent always refers to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Over time, Christians have come to associate the Lenten season with wilderness, and, in many parts of the world, the weather conditions reinforce this symbolism. Winter snow and ice scour the trees, their bark and branches become brittle, the sap barely stirs. Everything about winter’s slow release suggests the not-yet, impatience, yearning. Author Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak gets it right when he says, “Before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck.”
Unlike the writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Markan writer gives little narrative space to Jesus’s wilderness experience. Jesus seeks and accepts baptism from the prophet John, thereby acknowledging the Baptist’s moral and spiritual authority and the attractiveness of his example. The Markan writer tells us that as Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan, he received a sign that confirmed his identity — God’s beloved child. Then, perhaps before he can fully grasp the significance of whose he is, Jesus is drawn into the bleak and dangerous wilderness. He remains there for forty days and undergoes some test of trial. Finally, Jesus emerges. The wilderness has served as the conditions for a kind of rebirth. Jesus knows who he is, whose he is, and the mission God has entrusted to him. Centered in and on his God, he preaches what he has gained in prayer, fasting and struggle — the realm of God is the realization of compassionate solidarity; the realm of God is now; the time is fulfilled.
Good and gracious God, help us to allow this Lenten observance to work in us as a season of rebirth. Like Jesus, may we come to the knowledge of who and whose we are; and, like him, may we be conformed to your desires for us so that your realm may grow in us and among us to your glory and honor.
This reflection was originally published in To Live the Passion and Compassion of Jesus: Reflections for Lent 2003, by M. Shawn Copeland.