A Reading from the Second Book of Genesis (9:8-17)
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O LORD, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.
7 Gracious and upright is the LORD; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
A Reading from the First Letter of Peter (3:18-22)
Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:9-15)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
This past weekend and in the days that followed, there was a whole lot of wild partying going on. No, I am not talking about our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. Judy kept folks pretty well under control there. Instead, I am referring to annual festivals such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of the world. These celebrations are supposedly held to provide people a way to celebrate, sometimes without many restrictions or inhibitions, before the austerity of Ash Wednesday – although I question how many of those who participate in them actually have anything at all to do with the observance of Ash Wednesday when it does comes.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy is, in fact a solemn one, a serious one, a sobering one. It includes a call to “fasting, prayer and self-denial” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 265). In the minds of many people, those are the themes of Lent. But a look at our scripture readings for today quickly brings that assumption into question. The tone that they strike is not one of darkness and gloom, but of darkness and gloom that have already passed and of a new beginning that has already taken place. They are readings filled with new life and hope.
Our first reading is the conclusion of the Noah story. It is not the story of an angry or offended God who, like a divine warrior, is prepared to punish or destroy the human race. Instead it is the story of a divine warrior who swears three times “never again” and who has permanently hung up his bow, transforming it from an instrument of war and of death into a colorful sign of life and of hope. It is the story of creation begun anew and of an eternal covenant that God has established, not only with human beings but with “all flesh that is on the earth.”
The passage that we heard from the First Letter of Peter refers back to the Noah story and sees in it a way to understand the new life of baptism that we already share in Christ. Once again, the message is one of life and of hope: life and hope in the risen Jesus who has already been glorified and who now reigns with God.
And our gospel story describes and celebrates a great, new beginning, as Jesus is baptized, spends forty days in the wilderness, and then begins his public ministry: announcing that the kingdom of God has come near and calling on people to listen to and embrace what he calls “the good news.” Taken together with the first two readings, this passage is one that proclaims and celebrates a great, new beginning.
This season of Lent, into which we have just entered, is a time for great, new beginnings. It opens up to us an annual opportunity to step back and look at what it means to be a people who are baptized into Christ. That theme of baptism in integral to the Lenten season, and it serves as the key for understanding Lent’s role in the church’s life.
St. Mark portrays Jesus’ baptism as the event in which God revealed to him who he was: “You are my Son, the Beloved.” Immediately following that revelation, the Spirit of God drove Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days: a time during which he had to grapple with that identity. And after those forty days, having embraced his identity as God’s beloved son, he set out on his mission: proclaiming the Good News of God and bringing God’s healing and compassion and love to those to whom he had been sent. Jesus learned his identity at his baptism, and Jesus then lived his identity.
So what is our identity? What is the identity that we have received in baptism? Have we not also been affirmed to be beloved sons and daughters of God? If so, what then does that mean? What does it mean for our life together? What does it mean for our mission together? How does that identity, as children of God, determine the direction for our lives? These are the questions that our readings pose for us. These are the questions that the season of Lent poses for us. What does our baptism mean? What difference does it make in us, in the church, in the world?
As we begin this unique time of year, “the church’s springtime,” as it has been called, we have a variety of opportunities for exploring these fundamental and vital questions, both together as a community of faith and as individuals. First and foremost, we have our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist with its rich offering of scripture readings, prayers and hymns to stimulate our reflections. We continue to have our Adult Forum, meeting both on Wednesdays and on Sundays, to help us probe those readings, prayers and hymns, to understand them better, and to consider their significance for us and our church. We have also our annual Deanery Lenten series, which begins this Tuesday; there is information about it in today’s bulletin. And we have the “Lenten Meditations” booklets in the pews; please take one home for you and your household to use in the coming weeks. All these are aids to help us think about, pray about and ask ourselves about those questions of Lent: those central questions about our life in Christ.
Sometimes people come to church looking for clear, simple answers. They would be terribly disappointed with today’s readings; because, instead of giving clear, simple answers, those readings raise important questions: those central questions of Lent. It is in only by entering into Lent as fully as possible that we make can use of this time to explore those questions and maybe, with God’s help, begin to see the answers more clearly.
On this first Sunday in Lent, we heard in our gospel a description of Jesus’ unique identity and of his coming-to-grips with his identity and his mission from God. As we make our way through these forty days of Lent, the church offers us an annual opportunity to consider our unique identity, given to us in baptism, and our mission from God, as a church and as individuals. It is a time of new life and new hope. It is a time for us to reflect, to reconsider, to be renewed so that, when Easter comes, we may be ready to renew our own baptismal promises, recommitting ourselves to be true followers of Jesus, bringing to the world that God loves that same divine gift of new life and new hope.