FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (2021)
Readings:Genesis 9:8-15Psalms 25:4-91 Letter of Peter 3:18-22Mark 1:12-15
The first recorded covenant that God makes with His creation is recounted for us in our first reading from the Book of Genesis (although some might suggest that the creation of man and woman is the most original covenant). In the days following the great flood, Noah and his surviving family are assured by the God they worship that He is establishing a “covenant” (a “contract,” that is often simply interpreted as “I am your God – and you are my people,” a chosen people). Noah is assured that He will not destroy the earth again by flood, and the sign of His covenant is the rainbow.
The flood precedes the salvation that Noah and his relatives enjoy, just as the waters of baptism precede our salvation. We Christians (not solely) enjoy the favor of the God we worship because of the “new covenant” spoken of in our Eucharist, a covenant secured by the “blood of Christ.” It is also the message of our second reading which speaks of how patient God was “during the building of (Noah’s) ark, in which a few persons… were saved.” Paul goes on to say that our baptism, “is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” We can have a clear conscience because of what Jesus has done for us. It is the equivalent of what God did for Noah, but it is permanent and once and for all. No other person can save us as we are saved by Jesus, the very Son of God.
Our gospel recounts the very trim Markan version of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. At the beginning of His ministry Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, where He was tempted by Satan. Mark gives us no details of this temptation (like the other Synoptics), for the point of today’s gospel, is to announce that “the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The second phrase is what is customarily said with the imposition of ashes (during this pandemic it is different). The most important thing is “to believe in the gospel,” the words of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the good news. At the beginning of this season of Lent, it is Jesus’ teaching that we should be focused on, really, the same thing we should be constantly focused on, in every season. So how does this make this season different from any other?
It is not different. The Opening Prayer states explicitly what we should be thinking: “through the yearly season of holy Lent,… may we truly “grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” What we do during Lent is try to focus more clearly on what good Christians are meant to focus on all the time, perhaps with a little more intensity, perhaps with a little more resolve. We are called to lead lives that truly proclaim to others that “they can know us by our love,” by our kindness, by our compassion, by our care for others, especially those less fortunate than us. The seasons that mark the liturgical year all have the same thing in common – to transform us into “other” Christs.
For so many of us Lent was a season when we “denied” ourselves of some food or drink. With the pandemic, during which we have denied ourselves so many things, perhaps, as so many have said, we should spend more time doing things with a little more gusto. I offer the following as a start:
~ promise to truly treat others as you would like to be treated;~ promise to be patient and positive toward all those within your orbit;~ promise not to gossip;~ promise to be truthful, and not pass on anything that is known to be untrue;~ promise to eliminate all things racist from the deepest recesses of your soul;
~ promise to care for the World in the spirit of Pope Francis;~ promise to see in the outcast and immigrant men and women people like ourselves who solely long to improve their lives;~ promise not to harbor grudges;~ promise to share your wealth with those less fortunate;~ promise to support your elected leaders as best as you can;~ promise to sincerely work on all things that keep you from being recognized as “other Christ.”
There is surely much that you can add to your own Lenten list, in order that when we celebrate the Paschal mystery at the end of this Lenten season, we might truly, yet not perfectly, be more conformed to the Christ who gave His life that we might enjoy eternal life.