Let us pray (in silence) [ to follow Christ more closely ]
your Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness;
give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your Spirit;
and as you know our weakness
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer,
who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
I have journeyed through some of the world's great deserts, including the Sahara and the desert of today's gospel story. If New Zealand 's abundant scenery speaks to me of God dressed in some of God's greatest fineries, the stark desert speaks of the nakedness of God, of intimacy, conjugal union. "Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.... There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, “My husband,” and ... I will take you for my wife forever"(Hosea 2:14-19). "Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" (Song of Solomon 8:5). "You have seduced me, O God, and I have let myself be seduced" (Jeremiah 20:7 Jerusalem Bible, this verse was a repeated refrain in Into Great Silence, the documentary about the Carthusians).
Desert in Greek is ερημος (eremos) from which we get our word "hermit". Carthusians are communities of hermits. Sounds contradictory. So much of our spiritual tradition holds together what appears contradictory. The desert is not only the place of deepest union, it is the place of temptation, the dwelling, not just of God, but of the demonic. Jesus, on the cross, appears deserted - made like a desert. We find our desert in the Sahara. We find our desert - place of union and temptation - in the city. The desert of the cross is carried through the city and stands outside its walls. You read this reflection in the internet - desert - place of union and temptation.
Cranmer wrote a new collect for this Sunday for 1549:
O LORD, whiche for oure sake dyddeste faste fortye dayes and fourtie nightes; Geve us grace to use suche abstinence, that, oure fleshe beyng subdued to the spirite, wee maye ever obeye thy Godlye mocions in righteousnesse, and true holinesse, to thy honoure and glorye, whiche lyveste and reigneste, &c. [some time after 1604 was added: with the Father and the holy Ghost, one God world without end. Amen.]
The CofE Liturgical Commission revised this to
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.
The NZPB acknowledges (p.949; 1989 edition. p.944; 2005 ed.) that it sourced this prayer from The Daily Office Revised, ed. Ronald Jasper (JLG undated). NZ does not have the third line (from Heb 4:15). NZ has "direct our lives" where CofE has "discipline ourselves" instead of Cranmer's "abstinence". Both have "in obedience to your Spirit" for "our flesh being subdued to the Spirit" and substitute "as you know our wekness, so we may know your power to save" (1 Cor 6:14) for his "we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory."
Lent has historically had different beginnings. Today is one of them. If one counts forty days from today, one ends at the evening of Maundy Thursday, the start of the sacred triduum.