With the season of Lent now upon us, we enter a period of penitent reflection that includes an increased emphases on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Our readings for Sunday Mass not only remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, but our three-year lectionary cycle also allows us to explore that story in the light of an over-arching theme for the season. For Cycle B (Gospel of Mark), that theme is covenant. Covenant is that agreement between God and his people that marks the special relationship we have with our God. It is a word we will hear in our readings this Sunday, and a word we will continue to hear in our readings throughout this Lenten season.
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Our first reading for this 1st Sunday of Lent starts with one of the first covenants between God and his people – that between God and Noah at the end of the great flood. Also known as the Noahic covenant, this is the promise that God makes to Noah and all the people that he will never again destroy all life on Earth with a flood. While this covenant was initially made with Noah, it is also a promise to all human kind by establishing the rainbow as a reminder “for all ages to come” of that promise. Our Psalm this week continues this theme of covenant by reminding us that the Lord’s ways are love and truth to those who keep that covenant.
Our second reading comes from the 1st Letter of Peter, wherein he draws a direct connection between the covenant with Noah and the new covenant through Jesus Christ. He draws a parallel between the salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of the flood with the salvation that Christ offers through Baptism.
Following this reflection on Baptism, our Gospel from Mark takes us to that moment just after Jesus’ baptism where he is driven out into the desert. Mark tells us Jesus spent forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. This is reflective of our forty day journey through Lent where we are meant to face-down our demons find reconciliation with our Lord.
This covenant with Noah, and the subsequent covenants in the Bible between God and his people give us a special status. We are a people of the covenant. Beloved and chosen by God. But a covenant is also like a contract… we the people of God also have responsibilities under this covenant. What are those responsibilities? Quite simply, to live our lives according to God’s commandments… as Jesus taught, to love God and love our neighbor. Simple in theory, but as we all know, much more difficult in practice. So how are we doing in keeping up our end of that covenant? This is the question we must ponder during Lent.