First Sunday of Lent
Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-15; Mk 1:12-15 (Year B)
The Genesis account of the covenant with Noah marked a new beginning for sinful humanity. The harmony of creation, symbolised by the Garden of Eden, had been fractured by original sin. From that point onwards humanity’s relationship with God and the environment had descended into chaos. The man was estranged from the woman, brother murdered brother and the nations were divided. Creation’s harmony was disintegrating. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that the thoughts of his heart fashioned nothing but wickedness all day long.”
Ash Wednesday called us to repentance. Repentance is rarely immediate. It is rooted in a prayerful reflection on our lives and an honest acknowledgment of what sin has made us. It is the space in which we acknowledge the chaos that sin brings to our lives. We confess that our relationships with God and each other have been undermined.
The covenant with Noah puts our Lenten penance within a hopeful context: “See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants, also with every living creature. No thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters.”
Noah’s very existence had been threatened by the Flood. When we sin we begin to sink into a different kind of chaos. Noah’s deliverance prefigured the deliverance promised in Christ to every repentant sinner. As Noah was delivered from the deluge, so are we brought to salvation through the waters of baptism. “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God.”
Possibly we are discouraged because our repeated efforts to master temptation have so often failed in the past. We should not be disheartened. St Mark’s succinct account of Christ’s temptation demonstrates that we are not alone in this struggle. “The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and he remained there for 40 days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” Let us allow the same Spirit to lead us into the wilderness of our lives. As Jesus was with the wild beasts, so repentance enables us to face the darkness of our lives. Mark’s Gospel records simply that the angels watched over Jesus during his temptation. We can be sure that the same loving providence accompanies the turmoil that brings us to true repentance, and we shall find Christ at the heart of our wilderness. “A new heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence.”
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