1st Sunday of Lent 1 March 2009
As you know, we are apparently in a time of economic recession. Among all the talk of gloom and doom (much of it surely unnecessary or overstated with the danger of being self-fulfilling) there have been a number of references to the great depression of the 1930’s. This time of economic hardship and even calamity indelibly marked the lives of many who lived through it. I remember my grandmother always living relatively frugally, even though she had plenty of money. When teased about this she would reply that the money was there for a ‘rainy day.’ Her view was that what had happened before might happen again. It was wise to be prepared. The great depression was for her and for many of her generation a significant experience in the light of which the rest of their lives were lived. In the bible such significant experiences and significant people are called types. Our scriptures for this first Sunday of Lent present us with several of these types. We are to reflect on them during Lent and try, with the Lord’s and each other’s help, to incorporate into our faith and lives the truths they teach us. Our first reading from the book of Genesis presents us with the covenant that God made with Noah, and through Noah all humanity. The rainbow is presented as a sign forever of this covenant. However, the choice of this reading, as our second reading shows, was not because of the covenant as such, but because of the great flood that resulted in the covenant. Noah’s flood is treated in Christian thought, and already in the New Testament, as a type of baptism. In addition, the eight persons in Noah’s ark, are seen as a type of the Christian community. Our second reading, from the first letter of St Peter, explores these types. The reading tells us that the eight people in Noah’s ark were “saved through water.” This means that water was the means whereby the ark was brought to safety on land. Through the waters of baptism we Christians too are ‘saved through water.’ Not in a materialistic sense such as in the removal of dirt though physical washing. But rather in a spiritual sense. This is where the movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the new believer – what the author calls ‘a good conscience’ - inspires them ask for the waters of baptism as their response to God with repentance of sins and faith in Jesus as saviour. The author’s teaching of baptism as God’s invitation and the candidate’s response to God fits in well with the Rite of Election that we celebrate this weekend with our catechumen, Andy Leonard. The second type presented to us is of Noah’s ark as a type of the Church. Many medieval baptismal fonts have pictures or carvings depicting Noah’s ark as the Church. Just as the ark saved a small group of eight people, so the Church will save the small but growing Christian community. Our gospel from St Mark has a very short form of the temptation of Jesus. We are more familiar with the longer forms which speak of the 3-fold temptation of Jesus and the fact that he fasted for 40 days and nights. The particular words used in St Mark’s account though may indicate that Jesus was fed by the angels during this period. This would suggest that Mark wants us to see Moses and Elijah as types of Jesus. The mana in the desert that fed Moses and the chosen people for 40 years is called the ‘bread of angels’. Elijah was fed by ravens during his 40-day fast. So even though it is short, St Mark’s form of the temptation of Jesus is particularly rich in meaning. Mark is not interested in the psychological experience of Jesus but rather in proclaiming him
as the new Israel, the new Moses, the new Elijah, the holy person of God, and the new Adam, through whom the powers of evil are defeated and the peace of paradise restored. Our scriptures then, with the several types that they present to us, provide us with rich material for our reflection during this first week of Lent. Even though many of us were baptised as infants we can still reflect on our baptism and how significantly it affects our faith, our lives, today. Are we sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us – the Holy Spirit who inspires us to approach God with a ‘good conscience’? Do we then seek repentance of all that is negative, broken, sinful in our lives, with faith in Jesus as our saviour? Do we have a profound sense of being an integral, active, part of the church – parish, diocese, world-wide – that is, as it were, the ark that saves us? Is Jesus for us really our Lord and Saviour, that holy person of God who experienced the same temptation of self-centredness and self-promotion that we face, but who, with God’s help, was able to overcome it?