1st Sunday of Lent
Feb. 18, 2018
Gen 9: 8-15
1 Pet 3: 18-22
Our Lady of Lourdes, Bethesda, Md.
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you…” (Gen 9: 8).
The word covenant is used 5 times in the 8 verses of our 1st reading. It’s the 1st covenant mentioned in the Bible between God and his elect, his chosen ones—in this case, Noah and his descendants, i.e., the entire human race.
According to the story, God has been so angered by the sinful behavior of his human creatures that he’s wiped them out, and all living creatures as well—because there’s a fundamental unity in creation, and homo sapiens can’t be neatly separated from the animal or plant kingdoms. God has excepted only 1 upright man, Noah, and his immediate family and a pair of each species of animal (Gen 6:19)—or, in a 2d version of the story, 7 pairs of clean animals and 1 pair of the unclean (7:2). (The account of the great flood that we have in our Bible today is an editorial melding of 2 earlier sources, and the melding isn’t always smooth.)
Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering
(Joseph Anton Koch)
Having survived thru a gracious act of God, Noah and his family respond by offering a sacrifice. God is pleased, and he responds with this covenant promise, that never again will he react so angrily as to destroy the earth with water as he has just done (8:20-22). And he provides a sign of his pledge, a peace sign, as it were, of this covenant that he freely initiates: he places his bow in the heavens. The Hebrew word used here for the rainbow is the same word that means a bow that’s a weapon of war. So God hangs up his weapon, puts it to rest. That word usage makes God’s covenant sign all the more powerful now as a symbol of his patience with us and his willingness to bear with our evil—our evil hearts, our evil desires, our evil words, our evil deeds: “the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start,” the Lord declares even as he smells the sweetness of the holocaust that Noah offers (8:21).
The Lord knows who we are and how we are—so few of us righteous like Noah. And he begins to devise what we might call Plan B. He’ll call Abraham and make another, more specific covenant with him, then Moses and yet another, very specific covenant, all leading eventually to the last, eternal covenant effected thru the sacrifice of Jesus.
That’s the covenant that St. Peter alludes to, without using the word. “Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God” (3:18). And we enter this covenant relationship by the power of God’s Spirit. As Jesus Christ “was brought to life in the Spirit” (3:18), so are we. And, in view of the Noah story, isn’t it really ironic that the sign of Jesus’ covenant is water! The water of the great flood, Peter says, “prefigured Baptism, which saves you now,” washing us clean not of physical dirt but of the moral or spiritual filth of our sins, cleansing our consciences and uniting us to our Lord Jesus (3:21).
In this season of Lent, we’re invited to renew our covenant relationship with God the Father by reconnecting with Jesus: by repentance of our sins (“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus proclaims [Mark 1:15]); by celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation, which concretizes our repentance and brings the Spirit into our hearts and our lives afresh and renews the grace of Baptism; by recommitting our lives to the truth that Jesus teaches and the way of living that he demonstrates.
We prayed a little earlier that our Lenten observances will help us conduct ourselves in Jesus’ way, in a way that “pursues … the riches hidden in Christ” (Collect)—the riches of our Father’s love, the riches of virtue, the riches of the seeds of eternal life.
May the Holy Spirit of Jesus draw you and me ever closer to Jesus himself, and thru him to the Father who created us, loves us, and wants us to spend eternity with him.