Great care has gone into the choice of readings during the Sundays of Lent. The Old Testament readings present some aspect of Israel's salvation history as it prepared for and prefigured the Christ event. The 2nd readings, drawn from the early Church's letters, focus on the way believers make the gift of salvation their own, especially through baptism. The Gospels of Lent center on Jesus and the moments of his ministry that led to the ultimate gift of himself on the cross and the victory of resurrection. Today's readings center on the themes of water, covenant and baptism.
In the hazy, pre-written history of the peoples of the ancient Near East, there was a collective memory of a great disaster that revolved around water. The author of Genesis couldn't ignore this memory, already explained in other cultures' myths and accounts of their gods. This memory also had to be reconciled with his belief that the God of Israel is good and is not capricious. And so we find the Noah account in which God destroys almost all of creation with a flood because of God's disgust with the sinfulness of humanity and what they were doing to the rest of creation. But God also begins a new creation, another try, through a covenant with Noah and his children and with all living things. What is being celebrated is the recognition that God is the lord of all creation. While God preserves creation, man has a tendency to corrupt it and unleash destabilizing forces. Watch a nature series on TV and see how often problems for other living creatures and plant life begin by human interference or attempts to control rather than respect nature.
A rainbow become the sign of this covenant. Now there is a difference between contracts and covenants. Contracts are legally binding agreements between parties that clearly define a quid pro quo; that is, you do something for me and I, in turn, do something for you. But, a covenant is something different; it's more about a relationship that about goods, services or obligation. It basically says that I'm here, no matter what.
We enter into the covenant relationship with God through baptism where water saves not destroys. The Lenten season has its roots in Baptism. Lent was a time of preparation for baptism at Easter by those wishing to become members of the faith. Those already baptized joined with them in prayer and fasting as a sign of communion and as a means of preparing to renew their own baptismal promises at Easter.
Jesus went to the desert, a waterless place, where he faced evil and overcame it to be a source of encouragement for us as we enter the wilderness of Lent to prepare to renew our baptismal promises. The desert is also a place where one comes back to the basics of life. That is also the purpose of Lent for us. It is a time to focus attention on what is really important in our lives. We do so through our "giving up" the extras we sometimes think we can't do without. Lent is a time to discover that there is a difference between what we need and what we want.
-Fr Sas, February 22 Homily
The 1st Sunday of Lent