First Sunday of Lent

On this first Sunday of Lent, the readings present us with a movement from sin and death to new life. In the first reading from Genesis 9:8-15, God establishes His covenant with Noah and every living thing, promising never again to destroy all bodily creatures by the waters of a flood, and giving the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. God sent the flood to wash away sin, but He does not desire death and destruction. Instead, He desires that there be an abundance of life, and sin destroys that life by separating it from God, who is the source of all life. Thus, as St. Peter says in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22), “God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water,” and then He gave the rainbow as a constant reminder that He does not eagerly seek occasion to destroy sinners, but instead rejoices when they turn to Him and live.

The salvation through water of Noah and his family, St. Peter tells us, “prefigured baptism, which saves [us] now.” In Noah’s day, the flood waters washed away sinful humanity so that all creation could once more glorify God. Yet the roots of sin lie deep within us all, which meant that the flood could not solve the problem of sin and the death it brings. God therefore gave us baptism, which, St. Peter says, “is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism removes the guilt of sin by uniting us to Christ, who “suffered for sins … that He might lead [us] to God” and then “was brought to life in the Spirit.” In His body He rooted out and destroyed sin so that we might live with Him in the Spirit.

If we wish to remain united to Christ and to grow in the life He gives us, we must follow His example. In the gospel (Mark 1:12-15), we read that “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him.” Note that it is the Spirit who drove Jesus out into the desert. Our Lord was always docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and He always preferred the will of His heavenly Father, even to activity that was more obviously relevant to His mission. He was driven out “into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days.” Just so, we must not be dismayed if we find ourselves in the midst of hardship and desolation when we have undertaken to follow Christ. Our Master has gone before us into the desert, and our task is to remain there with Him and, like Him, prove ourselves faithful servants of God.