Please note that this Sunday is the first Sunday in the Christian season of Lent. In lent the lectionary explores the themes of sin, penance, and redemption. The lenten journey is a time for deep reflection on our brokenness and our need for salvation.
Genesis 9 records the covenant God made with Noah after God brought forty days of rain on creation causing a flood that wiped out all life save Noah and his family. The flood was sent in response to humanity’s deep depravity (i.e. every inclination of the thoughts of [human] hearts was only evil continually). The flood was not a punishment. God was grieved and sorrowful, and regreted making humanity. Evil was so pervasive there was no hope of redemption without new beginnings. As presented in Genesis the flood was a redemptive act on behalf of God for the sake of God’s creation.
Three things are important to highlight. First, God chose to covenant with humanity and the rest of creation even though humanity was inclined toward evil and had previously harmed creation. The choice to continue with humanity is significant. God does not create new beings, or scrap the whole project. In spite of humanity’s frailty God chooses to abide with his original creation. Second, the language of the flood account has close parallels with the language of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2. The world is starting over, and so is God’s relation to that world. In this new world not only will God desire humanity to behave differently, but God will also be different in God’s approach to humanity. Third, the difference in God’s approach is the willingness of God to initiate covenant with undeserving humanity, and the self limiting of God’s destructive power. Commentators have long pointed out that the sign of the rainbow should be understood as God hanging up God’s bow (i.e. God’s weapon of destruction).
Psalm 25 provides a liturgical response to the new covenant reading of Genesis 9. The psalmist sings to God, “be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” The psalmist is clinging to the promise of new beginnings and God’s promise of merciful dealings. The psalm also recognizes that humanity will depend on God for instruction in life, and will need the help of God in learning the ways of the Lord. In light of the circumstances that led to the awful flood of Genesis 6 the psalmist cries out to God for assistance: “O my God, in you I trust…make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”
1 Peter 3:18-22
Our NT epistle lection references the flood directly. The author (Peter, or someone writing in Peter’s name) mentions the story of the flood and the saving of Noah and his family and links it to Christian baptism (i.e. eight persons were saved through water…and baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you).
The ability for salvation to be found at baptism is brought about by the death of Christ (the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous) who “suffered for sins once for all.” So powerful and complete was Christ’s selfless act for humanity that after his death while still in the grave he even “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah.”
Our reading for the first Sunday in Lent overlaps our reading for the first Sunday of Epiphany (Mark 1:4-11). Both contain the story of the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. Both contain the proclamation “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Lent’s reading, however, goes on to include Jesus’ trip into the wilderness for forty days. Mark’s account is very sparse in detail (unlike Matthews). Mark’s account tells us four quick things: (1) Jesus was driven to the wilderness by the Spirit; (2) while in the wilderness he was tempted by the devil; (3) while in the wilderness he was amongst the wild beasts; and (4) while in the wilderness he was attended to by angels. Upon his return to civilization Jesus immediately began his public proclamation of the coming kingdom.
Jesus’ journey into the wilderness points us to our own lenten journey–a journey that prepares us to likewise proclaim the good news of God’s coming kingdom.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider our deep need for salvation. Our goodness comes from God. Without God we are in bondage to the evil inclinations of our hearts. With God we are blessed with the cleansing waters of baptism and wilderness experiences that lead us to a bold proclamation of God’s kingdom.