The First Sunday in Lent, 18 February 2018

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-9
I Peter 3:18-22
St. Mark 1:9-15

Background: Quadragesima

With the loss of the Pre-Lenten season and its “gesima” Sundays, non-Romance peoples have lost the earlier designation of Lent, Quadragesima or “fortieth”. As to when this season begins, as well as when it ends, there is a variety of statements. In the Roman tradition it can be said that it either begins with the First Sunday of (or in) Lent, or it begins with the liturgies on Ash Wednesday. Amongst Anglicans and Lutherans, it begins on Ash Wednesday lasting until Holy Saturday. This gives the period a count of 46 days. However, the Sundays in Lent are not counted as fast days and so bring the total days of the fast down to 40.

What is the purpose of the season? There may be several. Some see it as a period of catechesis during which candidates for baptism were prepared for that Sacrament on The Great Vigil of Easter. For others it is a period of personal introspection, fasting, as well as “giving up” something of significance to add meaning to the season. In some traditions there is a giving up of the consumption of meat during the season.

The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word, “Lencten” – “Spring Season. It has similar forms in Germanic languages, lenz. Whereas the Latin word denotes the number of days during the season, this usage is focused on the time of the year. Other languages name the season in reference to the activities of the season, such as fasting. It is a rich season, ripe with opportunities for understanding the faith and prayer that accompanies it and prepares us for Jerusalem.

First Reading: 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.”

It is interesting that in this pericope, God needs to repeat the promise of not destroying the earth again three times. Each statement is followed by nothing, presumably silence. This lack of response may represent to us Noah’s incredulity, or fatigue, or perhaps both. It adds a human dimension to the interchange (of which we are only aware of one part) rather than just being an emphasis brought about by repetition. It seems worthy to see the human Noah taking his time to take in the promise and to understand it fully. The story of the rainbow, has the double purpose as an etiology, explaining the presence of a natural phenomenon. That, however, is only secondary to the emphasis of God’s promise. Noah’s silence is like a Lenten season, a period of thinking through what God has done.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.      When have you not understood God?
2.      How did you learn to know what God wanted you to know?
3.      What questions do you have for God?

Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi

     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.

This psalm is an acrostic, allowing perhaps for memorization of its lines and its teachings. There are several purposes evident in the psalm – confession, supplication, deep prayer – all of them play a role in the verses of the psalm. The instruction that is desired is one of knowing what to do when one has sinned. Thus, the psalmist asks to be informed and instructed, lead and taught. Implicit in the text is the deep knowledge that God has of the author, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” The supplication is that God will not only see these acts, and forget them, but recall God’s own goodness to God’s people. This is the perfect psalm to lead us into a season of penitence.

Breaking open Psalm 25:
1.     What does God know about you that causes you shame?
2.     How do you deal with your shame?
3.     What do you ask of God in this circumstance?

Second Reading: I Peter 3:18-22

Christ also 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 purpose of this letter, which combines both Petrine and Pauline teaching, is for the whole community to be taught and enlivened in the good news. The recipients are living in a difficult time, and they are encouraged to have hope and to deeply grasp their faith. Moral life in the Roman Empire was largely founded on the old Roman virtues which guided everyday life and behavior. Here, however, the author wants the hearer to understand that the foundation for living is found in Christ, seen and realized in Baptism. Christ is the example of suffering, and of triumph over the dark things of life. The baptismal example is Noah himself who is saved from death in the flood waters by the waters themselves. The flood brought Noah and his family out of the old into the new, just as Baptism forms us in a new way of living.

Breaking open I Peter:
1.     How do you separate yourself from the present culture?
2.     What are your reasons for doing so?
3.     How is your life centered in Christ?

The Gospel: St. 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.”

It is in Luke that we see Jesus in the company of others at his baptism, but in Mark we are allowed to understand a personal and internal experience, “he saw...”. Jesus appears on the scene, as it is now time for great events to begin, “In those days.” But it is not just baptism that we will witness here, but Jesus’ understanding of the event, temptation, and the beginning of ministry – all described in quick, brief strokes. We move with Jesus from the Jordan, to the wilderness, and finally to Galilee. Like Jesus, we begin the Lenten journey with its several obligations and experiences. I am always reminded, here in Mark, of Nikos Kazantzakis’ book The Last Temptation of Christ, in which pages Jesus as haunted by a deep and dark presence, that we finally know as the Holy Spirit calling him into the ministry that begins in Galilee. We need a dark time in our lives, absent the usual joys and luxuries, so that we might find God with us and blessing us. We need to hear, along with Jesus, that voice that pronounces us as son and daughter, and announces God’s good pleasure. That is why we walk with God in this season.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What are the various ways in which you see Jesus?
2.        Which of them do you like the most? Why?
3.        How does Jesus yet need to reveal himself to you?

Question: What has God announced to us that we simply do not understand?

1.     Like Noah, do we need to stand dumbfounded before God?
2.     Like the Psalmist, do we need to know that God knows?
3.     Like Jesus, do we need to wander for a bit?
4.     Like I Peter, do we need to become at one with the Suffering Christ?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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