Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 21: First Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Remember your compassion, O Lord

Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

With this Sunday the season of Lent is in full swing. As some have commented, we seem to have been immersed in a yearlong Lent of the pandemic — a time of forced reflection, a time when all of us are anxious for relief and renewed life. 

The liturgical season of Lent is also a time for deeper reflection about our lives and is directed to the celebration of Easter. Fundamental to Christian faith is the tenacious conviction that death does not have the last word — that Christ’s triumph over death on the cross and the victory of life he embodies is our destiny as well.

That fundamental pattern of moving from death to life is captured in this Sunday’s readings that recall the story of Noah and the flood. The opening chapters of Genesis depict the Bible’s convictions about the origin of all life in God’s loving creation, but also account for the harsh realities of sin and death. 

God’s intent was for human beings to flourish in the abundant beauty of creation. But, as the human story unfolds, we learn that our primeval ancestors abused their freedom and courted death instead of life. The sad legacy of arrogance, hatred and violence begins. 

In story-like form, the Bible depicts God as deeply distressed by human sin and the abuse of creation, so much so that God threatens to destroy creation with a devastating flood. But the goodness of Noah and his family stays God’s angry hand. 

This is where the reading from Genesis this Sunday picks up the story. To assure Noah and his family, God makes a covenant not only with Noah, but with “every living creature.” God promises never to destroy creation and to work to restore it. The marvel of the rainbow is a sign of God’s intent.

Here, in delightful story form, a profound conviction of the Bible and of our Christian faith is anticipated: Because of God’s compassion, our destiny is life not death. The response Psalm 25 draws on this tradition. The psalmist dares to remind God: “Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old, because of your goodness, O Lord.” 

The second reading from the First Letter of Peter also alludes to the story of Noah, recalling God’s patience in the days Noah built the ark to save him, his family and the animals. The author of the letter sees the flood story and God’s rescue of Noah as a prefigurement of baptism, “which saves you now.”

The Gospel selection from Mark describes in short dramatic strokes the inauguration of Jesus’ public mission. Following his baptism and the infusion of God’s Spirit into Jesus, the beloved Son of God is thrust into combat with the spirit of evil in the desert. It is an intense struggle with evil and death that will characterize Jesus’ entire mission in Mark’s account. 

The outcome of that struggle is hinted at in Mark’s symbolic language: After being tested by Satan, Jesus is at home with the wild beasts and “angels minister to him.” This is a whiff of paradise still to come, but confidently assured. 

The passage closes with Jesus returning to Galilee and announcing the keynote of his mission: that the time for renewed life is now and the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus’ healing touch, unending compassion for those who suffer, outreach to those in desperate need and his preaching the truth are all signs of God’s kingdom to come.

The etymology of the word “Lent,” I discovered, derives from the Old English word “lenten” for “spring,” which also meant to “lengthen,” referring to the increase of sunlight as the season of spring arrived. It is a nice fit, I think, with the spirit of this liturgical season. 

We are invited to reflect more deeply on our lives, on the joys, the sorrows, the fears, and do so not morosely, but with a spirit of hope that our God of compassion will give us renewed and unending life.



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