I give in to temptation. I do it all the time.
Not coincidentally, Lent is my least favorite of all the church traditions. I stand in line with everyone else most years to get that black smudge wiped across my forehead, reminded that I am dust, and to dust I will return. I’m to turn away from my sin and be faithful to Jesus.
I look into the eyes of the person wiping the ashen cross on my brow and I nervously question if they can see the heavy serpent draped across my shoulders, the one that whispers in my ear, the one I refuse, day after day, to shake off.
I can imagine that same snake slithering on the dirt of the desert, leading the way of those holy sandaled feet, knowing the man was hungry after not eating for 40 days. “Just turn those rocks to bread, man. You CAN do it, you know. If you’re hungry, then eat,” says the snake as he curls gently around Jesus’ ankle. The man says you can’t live on bread alone, but we need to live on the word of God. He keeps walking. I think of those rocks a lot during Lent and then I think of the smell of fresh-baked bread and I know what I would have chosen.
The truth is, I always choose the same thing. I always choose myself, what I think I need, and certainly what I desire. Anger over forgiveness, cynicism over hope, tearing others down over building them up. It’s always the former, even though I know that the Lord asks me to enact the latter. I’ve become quite used to having the serpent weighing on my shoulders, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. If I’m truly honest, I listen to the serpent more than the Still Small Voice that leads me to the Life Everlasting. The Holy Spirit always leads me down this path that’s far too narrow, through a gate that very few people will enter, and I’ve always preferred to follow the crowd.
How was it that Jesus was able to throw the snake off his shoulders, kick some dust in his face and say, “Get away from me!” It seems I’ve been tricked into believing that the snake isn’t so bad.
This season of Lent that we’ve stepped into - these forty days on the narrow path to Resurrection - is a period of time when we remember the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. Yes, we certainly remember the price that was paid, the death on the cross, his bare skin rubbing up against the wood. We remember all those things these forty days and I pray we don’t forget it as we abstain from things like meat, chocolate and Facebook.
But, may we also be a people that choose to throw that snake off our shoulders and walk a narrow path. May we choose to listen to the Spirit of God, rather than the lies of a snake. May we die to ourselves a little bit more tomorrow than we did today, because we are a people that believe in the promise that through death, we find REAL life.
These forty days and beyond, let’s be a people who truly live.