February 18, 2018 — First Sunday of Lent
From the Scriptural Readings on this First Sunday of Lent it should be clear to us that Lent has begun. From a reminder that God has made a covenant with us in the First Reading from Genesis to St. Peter’s reference to that in his letter to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert as explained in the Gospel of St. Mark we should know that it is time for us to pursue our Lenten disciplines.
Our Lent is also 40 days in length, beginning this past Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and ending on Holy Thursday, March 29, at the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The three facets of our Lenten experience are traditionally prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This is to be a time of spiritual preparation for Easter for us.
The major point made in the First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Genesis is God’s covenant. In this reading God declares a covenant with Noah, his family, and all their descendants, which is effect with all humankind, including us. There are many covenants described in the Bible, but this covenant, known as the Noahic Covenant, is unique in that it applies to all humanity. In this covenant God promises never again to destroy all life on earth, and He creates the rainbow as the sign of this “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the faithfulness of God and every one of His promises. He even says His covenant of peace with us is just as sure as His covenant with Noah and all generations.
Normally a covenant is an agreement between two parties, in this case God and humankind. However, because this covenant is “divinely imposed” makes it plain to us that there is no room for negotiation on our part. We either accept or reject this covenant. Accepting it means working to fulfill God’s expectations. That is part of what Lent is all about for us.
Often with the Letters of St. Paul it is clear to whom he is writing (e.g., Philippians, Ephesians, Corinthians, etc.). However, it is not clear as to the intended readers for St. Peter’s two letters. At one point he states that he is writing to God’s elect “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The basic keynote purpose of the letters is “hope.” Peter is writing to encourage the Christian community to live in accordance with the hope they have received through Christ. He returns to this declamation throughout his two letters.
In our Second Reading from the First Letter of Peter, he says, “Christ suffered for our sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” Is that not what should be happening to us now and throughout Lent? We are to be lead to God in more and better ways. Peter makes reference to Noah and thus implies the covenant that God has with us. Nevertheless, in fulfilling that covenant we have to do something also.
We might say it is all about restoring and strengthening our relationship with God. What we do during Lent and the efforts we make and the disciplines we practice all should have that intention. Peter paints a picture for us in this reading. He points out that Noah’s salvation was connected to water, just as our salvation is connected with the water of our Baptism. We are fond of using the term “Baptismal call.” The waters of the flood washed away sin and brought a new world, with a fresh start in the eyes of God. Now is the time for us to accept our Baptism as a fresh start from the old to the new. We have several weeks during Lent to begin that process.
Our connection with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is similar to the story about a little boy flying a kite that flew so high he could no longer see it. An observer said to him, “How do you know it is still up there?” The boy replied “I can feel the pull.” Lent is a time for us to “feel the pull.” We may not see Jesus in Heaven, but we need to feel Him pulling us toward Him.
In the Gospel from St. Mark we hear, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days.” It is obvious where our 40 days of Lent come from. But 40 is a recurring theme in the Bible. In Noah’s flood it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years. It was a time of “testing” for Jesus. Lent is a time of testing for us. Everything we are called to do is to bring us the ideas of patience, sacrifice, self-discipline, commitment, and, as Peter implies, hope.