Old Testament: 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.”
The Response: Psalm (25:1-9)
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.
The Epistle: 1 Peter (4:3-6)
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 Gospel: 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
Lent has never been my favorite season. I’m sure that that is true for many of you. I strongly suspect that much of my antipathy toward this part of the church year stems from memories of some of the Lenten practices that I remember from my younger years. It always came across as a negative, depressing season: a time to, as an old form of confession put it (BCP, p. 331): “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness…, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.” That atmosphere of our utter corruption and our wretched nature, along with a foreboding of divine retribution, seemed to dominate our Lenten worship. Somewhere, it seems that we had forgotten the Good News, which is supposed to be our hope and our joyful proclamation, no matter what time of the year it is.
No, Lent has never been my favorite season; and that is strange. After all, Lent has long been called “the springtime of the church.” And especially here in mid-February, when we have become sick and tired of the cold and ice and gloominess of winter, spring is what we look forward to and long for. Yet there seems to be a terrible disconnect between our feelings about the church’s springtime, on the one hand, and our feelings about nature’s springtime, on the other. What are we missing here?
Maybe our Sunday readings and, in particular, our Old Testament readings can help to redirect and refocus us. As I mentioned in my article in the spring issue of The Lion’s Tale, our first readings this Lent focus on God’s various covenants with God’s people and with stories of wonderful, new beginnings. Today’s first reading is a perfect place to start.
The Genesis account of Noah and the Flood is actually a blending of two somewhat different flood stories. As we have them, they begin with a clear link between the sinfulness of the human race, on the one hand, and God’s decision to destroy humanity and start creation over again, on the other. Here is sin and retribution, crime and punishment, pure and simple.
But that is only at the beginning of the story; it is an approach that is quickly left behind. Something critical changes as the ark floats helplessly on the waters and as life in the rest of the world is destroyed. But it’s not humanity that changes; people will still be people, for both good and ill.
Instead, what changes during the story are the mind and the heart of God. As Noah and those with him emerge onto the dry land, God speaks to himself, acknowledging and accepting the flawed nature of humanity. God admits the futility of what had been God’s sin and retribution approach, resolving (Gen. 8:21), “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” “Never again” — that old approach just hasn’t worked. Humanity has not changed, but God has changed.
Some fundamentalists today try to claim that at least certain natural disasters are punishments from God because people don’t live in the narrow way that they insist everyone has to live. In Walter Brueggemann’s insightful commentary on the Flood narrative, he acknowledges the obvious fact that natural disasters continue; they are an inevitable part of living in this world. “But,” he declares (Genesis, page 84), “all those who regard such events as punishment for sin have failed to understand the change in God… The relation of creator to creature is no longer in a scheme of retribution. Because of a revolution in the heart of God, that relation is now based on unqualified grace.”
“Unqualified grace” – that affirmation lies at the very heart of what Lent is really all about. It emerges in our reading’s description of the covenant that God makes, not only with Noah and his family, but with all of creation. A covenant is basically a solemn agreement between two parties, in which each commits himself or herself to the other and takes on serious obligations toward the other. But notice that, in this story, the covenant is completely one-sided. God commits the divine self irrevocably to creation without asking for anything in return. There is that unqualified grace.
As this Lenten season continues, our readings will narrate God’s life-giving promise to and covenant with Abraham, God’s covenant with Israel that makes it a nation and that brings it into a unique relationship with its creator, and God’s promise through Jeremiah of a new covenant and a new creation. All of these marvelous narratives help to prepare us for the ultimate story of unqualified grace, retold and experienced once again in the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
Instead of seeing Lent as the negative, depressing season that it was once portrayed to be, maybe we need to begin this “church’s springtime” by taking a fresh look at Lent and a fresh look at the Good News: at the life-giving and life-affirming message that our Lenten scriptures proclaim. Certainly, they call us to a change of mind and a change of heart and a change in our lives. But they call us to make that change, not out of fear, but in a thankful response to God’s gift of unqualified grace. For, as our Genesis reading puts it, God will “remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And it is that covenant that is the source of every springtime.