1st Sunday in Lent – 1 March 2009
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News’.” (Mark 1: 12-15)
I’ve been trying to sort out for me the impact on this brief passage from Mark’s Gospel assigned for this Sunday, referring to Jesus’ temptation in the desert and His call to repentance announced from Galilee, of the discussion of God’s Covenant with Noah in the sign of the rainbow, from the first and second readings of this First Sunday in Lent - Cycle B. Normally in the liturgy of the First Sunday in Lent the account of the Temptation of Christ in the desert dominates, but when Mark’s Gospel is read it would seem the stress must lie elsewhere. St. Peter draws the two (rainbow covenant and Christ’s redemptive act) together and emphasizes that the real tragedy of the flood in Noah’s time was what people lost through their refusal of God. He binds this tragedy to the general loss of the life of grace of every day and time through refusal to repent. Physical death is not so much the tragedy; spiritual death through sin is.
Through divine revelation the rainbow, thanks be to God, reaches beyond Noah and into every day and time and teaches us about God’s will for humanity. Reassured by this beautiful sign in the sky, our primordial fear of storms subsides and God’s love for His people is affirmed. A watery death and the wood of the Cross are our passage in the sacrament of Baptism to everlasting life with God in Christ, who “innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God.”
The proper preface for the First Sunday focuses on Christ’s Temptation and Fast: “His fast of forty days makes this a holy season of self-denial. By rejecting the devil’s temptations he has taught us to rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil, and so to share his paschal meal in purity of heart, until we come to its fulfillment in the promised land of heaven.” The message is clear and loses nothing when confronted with Mark’s Gospel, but the accent does change. In Cycle B you might say that the Church’s liturgy leaves no doubt that this is God’s wonderful work in Christ and it is our choice to hear Him and respond.
Repentance, what is it? Lent teaches that it is that effort on the part of the baptized, through fasting and penance after the example of Christ’s forty days, to rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil. We wish to share His paschal meal in purity of heart and thereby enter the forecourt of heaven to enjoy the foretaste and promise of the world to come.
I remember the lovely old wood-carved confessionals of my childhood with Christ seated on the rainbow in judgment above the priest’s door to the confessional. Obviously Father sat there in the place of Christ: he sat and continues to sit today in the sacrament of Penance in the place of Christ the Judge. For some reason or other, on this First Sunday in Lent, I cannot put out of my mind the rainbow upon which the Judge is seated: the sign of God’s Covenant with Noah. God’s will is not that the sinner be lost, but that he turn and be saved. Christ’s Judgment is unto life everlasting and our plea for forgiveness is to the One who will save us from the abyss.
The hustle and bustle of life far from the land and from the rhythms of nature makes the appearance of a rainbow a rarity. In our man-made fortresses we probably don’t fear storms or floods much anymore either. Nonetheless, the signs have been interpreted for us and the next time we catch a glimpse of a rainbow let us recall the promise not do destroy and the invitation to choose life in Christ. Let it be just one more invitation to the Sacrament of Penance as well: the avenue par excellence open to us to turn to the Lord and find life and light in Him.