Church of England Diocese of Exeter Romansleigh

A homily for the first Sunday of Lent

21 Feb 2021, 9 a.m.

First Sunday of Lent

1 Peter 3: 18-end Mark 1: 9-15

It is very hard to live in Devon and not to have seen Dartmoor, or even visited the great expanse of moor. It rises up in the distance and has a great effect on our weather. As the saying goes, “If you cannot see Dartmoor it is raining, if you can it will rain soon”.

Many have visited the moor. Driving to Hay Tor, for example, and parking the car near the ice-cream van on a sunny day is a treat. Climbing one of the several paths up the Tor gives you the good feeling of achievement. Returning to the car you have ‘done Dartmoor’ and return home. In a sense you have but there is lots more. Walking past Hay Tor you very quickly find that there is no-one about. Standing by the stone railway lines you are the only one admiring their engineering. The majority of the visitors stay within a few hundred metres of the road, few venture further.

Going that bit further is where you experience the wildness, the wilderness of the moor. Although you cannot see Dartmoor Prison from behind Hay Tor it is possible to let your mind run riot as you imagine what things would be like for an escaping convict possibly lost on the moor for one or two days. What would they survive on? What sort of bed would they make for themselves? How would they fair in the ever-changing weather?

Imagine how life would have been for Jesus spending forty days in the wilderness. A different form of wildness but lonely just the same. Similarly barren, similarly hostile. Jesus lived alongside the wild beasts and the angels helped him. We do not know how but Jesus endured the forty days and fought back all of the temptations thrown at him by Satan.

As we plod our way along the various sheep tracks, still very much alone, we can easily find ourselves shrouded in mist or fog. Visibility can drop to just a few metres. Dartmoor at its most dangerous. But we can share with Jesus even in these inhospitable times. Did not Jesus meet with God, Elijah and Moses their meeting associated with a cloud, an event we call the Transfiguration. God speaking is often linked with the appearance of a cloud from which his voice is heard. As we try to maintain our own safety in the mist or cloud, do we listen about us. We hear the sheep bleating, we hear the wind rustle through the ferns, gorse and bracken. In this very similar event to those of Bible times do we pause to listen for God? We can stop for a moment and offer to him a prayer for our own safety and for the safety of others similarly caught on the moor. We can also offer to him the opportunity to stop and listen.

In todays busy world it is so hard to find the time to spend with God, to listen out for him. Many are the occasions when I have led periods of quiet contemplation where, every now and again, the business of the world breaks through – in the rural villages a tractor driving past, an aircraft flying high off to distant places. Opportunities to divert our minds to hold before God the farmer and his work tending his crops and animals working to feed people unknown to him, and the people on the plane off to a destination for business or a holiday. Both events could have a direct impact on our own life as we possibly buy into their services or purchase the fruit of their crops.

Walking across the moor we can contemplate and offer to God, without interruption, all of these things, and many more. We can take this as a great opportunity to be close to God. Calling upon the experience that Jesus had in the wilderness we, in our own small part, can share, and maybe come to understand, in a little way, some of what Jesus did for us as he prepared himself for the mission and ministry which was his.

Today Jesus can share in difficult times that we may experience, times when we feel that all is against us, times when we feel alone. These are times when we experience our own innermost wilderness. Few can help us when we are in this state. Inwardly we cast about seeking whatever solace we may find. To break out and escape this depth of loneliness is almost beyond our ability. Comments like, “I know just how you feel”, make matters worse because nobody can possibly know your inmost feelings. Yet there is one. Jesus, who spent forty days in a physical wilderness facing all manner of temptations, he has experienced a loneliness. He is the one with whom we can reliably share our emotions, our feelings for he has been there. Cast everything on Jesus for he can take away all of our problems.

Now, about getting lost on Dartmoor – take a map or a GPS unit. If you reach a road keep to it. Public transport will gather you up if the weather is bad to take you off the moor to safety.

Collect for the First Sunday of Lent

Almighty God,

whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,

and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:

give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;

and, as you know our weakness,

so may we know your power to save;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.