“When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going,” wrote the Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann. “Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter.” It may come as a surprise to some, but the greatest feast of the year is not Christmas; it is Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, Father Schmemann observed in his book “Great Lent: Journey to Pascha” (St. Vladimir’s Seminary, $16) that “on Easter we celebrate Christ’s resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us.”
By death Christ conquered death, and by his resurrection he granted us new life — supernatural life. And Lent, in many ways, is a journey into the meaning and heart of life.
Today’s first reading describes the beginning of human life: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” Adam, shaped from dust by the author and giver of life, also had communion with the Creator. Because we know well the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we can overlook that they were able to eat freely from the tree of life. Life was freely given, but the knowledge of good and evil came at a great price: separation from God, expulsion from Eden and death.
The serpent — “who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rv 12:9) — made promises he couldn’t keep: “You certainly will not die!” The promises of sin are not only always empty; they are ultimately deadly; they promise life and liberation, but deliver only death and slavery. Of course, sin often seems pleasing and desirable, even innocent. And so Adam succumbed to the temptations of self-will and self-love, rejecting the will and love of God. Seeking his own glory, he was banished to the dusty desert of the world, severed from friendship with God.
As St. Paul wrote, “Through one man” — that is, Adam — “sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” The Old Testament is the story of a journey, an often difficult pilgrimage from the edges of Eden to the cusp of the Incarnation. It is also a love story, the bittersweet narrative of a lover seeking his often wayward bride. And isn’t that same story often the story of our lives? God calls, but we hide. God seeks, but we flee. God waits, and we finally realize our desperate need for what he alone can offer: true life, real love, lasting peace. The Son of God willingly entered this world, and when the time came to begin his public mission, he went out into the desert. There was no tree, but there were 40 days spent alone with the Father. And then there was a tempter. Would Jesus, like the old Adam, listen to the devil? Jesus did listen; after all, it’s impossible to not be tempted in this world. And being fully man, Jesus really was tempted: “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18; cf. 4:15).
But while the old Adam accepted the words of the serpent, the word-made-flesh rebuked the father of lies. Jesus was fully aware of his mission; he understood and embraced the journey that would eventually take him to the new tree of life. He knew where he was going, for he knew perfectly where he came from and why he had come: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10).
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.