Lenten Reading Reflection Week 1: The Desert

By Jay Phelan

I made my first trip to the Holy Land in 1996. I flew to Tel Aviv in January with a group of Seminary presidents for what would become a memorable visit. We arrived, of all things, in the wake of the rarest of events in Israel: a snowstorm.

Some 11 inches of snow had fallen, and then as quickly as it had arrived, unlike our Minnesota snow, it was gone. We began the typical tour of Israel, starting in the north before moving south to Jericho and finally up to Jerusalem.

As we were on the road to Jerusalem, our guide excitedly pointed out that the Judean desert was blooming. Shoots of green were everywhere. The rare snowstorm had drenched the desert, and now, some days after the storm, the rarest of events had occurred: the blooming of the desert. 

Our first stop on our Lenten tour of the holy land is the desert. And lent can seem like a desert —barren, hot, thirsty, fearful. Our time of reflection and discipline can bring pain and a sense of sorrow for our losses and failures.

But the thing about the desert in the Bible is that it is a place of life as well as death. Through the desert, the children of Israel came to the promised land; through the desert, Jesus survived his temptation and was confirmed in his mission; and through the blooming and flourishing desert, like the desert I saw in the Judean hills, God leads us up to Jerusalem and new life.

Take a few minutes to read and reflect on Isaiah 35 with all this in mind. Out of the death of the desert comes resurrection life.

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