THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – February 26, 2012

 

The Book of Genesis 9:8-15

Peter’s First Letter 3:18-22

The Holy Gospel according to Mark 1:12-15

 

You have to let go if Lent is to have its desired effect.  You can come into Lent toting a lot of baggage, resentments, hostilities, sins, or whatever.  Let go of them.  You can come into Lent with all kinds of presuppositions, especially if you have had the experience of a prior Lent or two in your life.  Let go of the presuppositions and see if something new doesn’t happen.  You can come into Lent convinced it’s a downer, a season of moroseness and negativity.  Let go of that.  If you let go of everything and let yourself be open, even vulnerable, you just might be surprised.  After all, the Church calls this a joyful season; it is a season of grace.  It can be that for you if you don’t let your defenses get in the way.

On the other hand, could this be your first Lent?  Are you journeying through this season as a catechumen?  You might have no idea what to expect or what you are in for.  Good for you.  Let Lent happen.  Let the Spirit lead you.  Be a blank slate on which the results of the season can be etched.  You’ll be amazed at what can happen and how you can be transformed.

It’s all about conversion, a turning away from sin and believing the Good News that turns you toward God.  It is important to remember that Lent is about life, your experiencing God’s call to the fullness of life in Christ.  Let it happen.  God is the actor.  You be the recipient of God’s grace at work in your life.  That same grace will be working in the lives of those who gather with you as Church.  Lent is not meant to be nearly as private and individual a journey as some would have you think.  Lent should be a communal experience of the ongoing transformation of this people into the Body of Christ, a transformation that won’t be complete until, well until when?  See what you think as the season goes on and you and those around you enter more deeply.

The first reading for this Sunday puts us in a very important context.  The floodwaters rushed over the earth because ten just people could not be found on the face of the earth.  With the exception of Noah and his family, all those God had created in God’s image and likeness had embraced darkness and sin.

Now the waters have receded.  The only survivors are Noah and his family and the animals, domestic and feral, that Noah had brought aboard the Ark in pairs before the rains began.  Sin and corruption, the wholesale turning away from God’s ways caused the destruction.  Now the flood is over and the bow is emblazoned in the sky.  God makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant: Never again shall the waters of a flood destroy all bodily creatures; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.  Down through the ages the appearance of the rainbow will remind all who see it that this first covenant is forever.

The poetry and imagery are lush.  Take the reading literally and think of it as a historical record and you will miss the point.  This is the stuff of myth, powerful and grace-laden.  As Christians when we read this account of the flood in Genesis, the first thing we notice is that following upon the destruction of all that was, God begins something new – just like what happens with Baptism.  The sacrament fulfills the flood and changes its meaning forever.  That’s why when Baptism is celebrated there ought to be lots of water in a Font large enough for us to drown in because that is what we believe happens there.  In Baptism we die with Christ so that we might rise and live Christ’s life.  Never an ending, Baptism is always a beginning.  The baptized become a new creation.  You have put on Christ.  In him you have been baptized.  Amazing.  And we ought never to forget it.

In Peter’s First Letter, this Sunday’s second reading, we hear a primitive, that is, an early theology of Baptism.  Already, in the first century of the Christian era, Noah’s flood prefigured Baptism, which saves you now.  The flood that is Baptism washes sin away and gives new life, life that never ends.  The baptized stand, forgiven before God.

By the way, did you notice that in the first reading, God has all the lines?  Noah says nothing.  He is the recipient of the grace.  Usually a covenant is an agreement between two parties.  This first covenant, preceding those with Abraham and Moses, is a lavish outpouring of God’s love that far surpasses anything we could merit.  All we have to do is accept that and live the consequences.

So, what is Lent about?  How is the season supposed to work in our lives?  The faith walk we began on Ash Wednesday is not meant to be an idyllic saunter in the park.  We’re not in Eden anymore.  Being faithful on this journey begun at God’s invitation involves a struggle of will.  Mark’s account of Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert is the shortest of the three synoptic accounts.  This occurs immediately after Jesus’ Baptism.  Notice the words: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert; and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  Two things to notice: first, the Spirit drives Jesus into this experience.  That is not drive in the sense of providing transportation.  This means Jesus is compelled to go where he might rather not have gone.  Here is a struggle of wills.  This could well imply that Jesus was forced to go into the wasteland burdened with a foreknowledge of the struggle that would ensue.  This might imply that it was God’s will that Jesus endure this period and so be tempered for the mission he would begin.

Notice, too, that for forty days – the duration of the flood and Lent’s length – Satan tempted Jesus.  We do a disservice to the text if we minimize its implications.  Temptations are not temptations unless they lure us, invite us to something we ought not to do or be.  For Jesus the struggle is to always do the Father’s will in spite of Satan’s urging him to do otherwise.  For us it is the same.

Lent’s purpose is not to plunge us into temptation.  It is an invitation to go into the desert, not to be tempted but to all ourselves time to compare what we became through our Baptism with how we are living that reality.  This will take time.  We will need to be free of distractions.  We must be patient.  We’re going to have these 40 days to pray.  We are going to have this time to shrug off whatever is of sin so that we can more freely live the Good News by loving God and our neighbor.  Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.  The three activities that make up Lenten discipline.  And in the process we are preparing to be renewed through the celebration of the Great Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter – one tremendous feast spread over three days, the greatest feast of the Church’s year.

For you who are Catechumens, now called Elect, these forty days comprise your journey to the Font.  These days, during which you are invited to fast, to pray, and to give alms, your focus must be on Christ as you struggle to die to sin and put on Christ.  Forty days hence you will be brought to the Font.  You will stand at the edge of the waters and there discard all that was.  You will be invited to enter the waters that are your tomb, there to die to sin.  The waters transform into the womb from which you emerge on the other side from the one by which you entered.  Then you will be a new creation.  Then you will be invited to approach the Lord Table to share in the Eucharist that completes your Baptism.

Whichever this Lent is for you, your first or another one of many, don’t fear the struggle.  Let the Spirit lead you, drive you, if you are not inclined to make the journey.  It is, after all, all about love.  Yield to grace.  Enter in wholeheartedly and you will never be the same again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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