Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
First Sunday in Lent, Year B
February 21, 2021
The theme of covenant is central in this reading. God is establishing a covenant with all flesh – not just with humankind but with every living creature that He has created. God makes evident in this covenant his desire to remain connected with His creation. Never again, He promises, will He completely destroy His creation through a flood. As a sign of His promise, He plants a rainbow in the sky – an array of colors created by light. Through the floods of Noah, the Earth has been washed clean – a pre-determination of Baptism. Waters will wash over us, cleansing us, but we will not be destroyed.
God is a god of promises, but not just any promise. God is a god who makes Covenants. A promise is one-sided, but a Covenant requires both parties to be present and active. God promises not to destroy Creation; the created does their part by being in relationship with God and caring for the Creation. As we journey through Lent, how are you called to care for Creation? How are you called to respond to God’s promise to care for and preserve you? What rainbow appears as God’s light shines through you?
The main teaching of this first part of Psalm 25 is that in the midst of distress and chaos, we have the opportunity to learn of God. One thing we learn is that if we want to avoid the shame and humiliation of being triumphed over by enemies, we must put our absolute confidence in God and His care. When we put our confidence in God’s care, we 1) want to be shown the path of the LORD so as to keep in God’s ways, 2) we want to be remembered according to God’s love and not according to anything we have done, and 3) we want to be taught humility and lowliness because that teaching keeps us on the right path. God’s paths are of love and faithfulness. Our job is to allow Him to help us stay on the path – another beautiful Covenant, with each side keeping their part.
Humility and lowliness seem like scary words. We might prefer to be lofty and mighty. But if we submit ourselves before the Creator who wants to be in Covenant with us, it is easier and maybe even more comforting to be humble and low – cared for. Do you have a sense of how deeply God cares for you and of how much He wants you to remain faithful to Him? Do you sense His carrying you?
1 Peter 3:18-22
This is one of my favorite passages in Scripture and certainly evidence of the Good News! The Good News is that no one, absolutely no one, is outside the proclamation of God’s salvation. Not only did God (through Jesus) suffer for all of the unrighteous, Christ even went to the dead – to those who lived before Noah and the flood – in order to proclaim the Good News. All have the opportunity to pledge their way to the Risen, Saving Christ. These souls are described as “spirits in prison.” Christ’s journey and proclamation to them is known in church tradition as “the harrowing of Hell.” They are the ones on whom God “waited patiently” during Noah’s building of the ark, prior to the flood. Even though they did not repent in Noah’s day, they are given a second chance, so to speak! God waits on them as a mother waits on a child to grow into maturity and understanding. This text speaks of the flood as pre-figuring Baptism and as an appeal to a good conscience. Having a good conscience is freeing. Having a good conscience is an understanding that Christ is at the right hand of God with the angels and has made all authorities and powers subject to Him. We, therefore, are not at the mercy of these powers. We are not in prison. We belong to Christ.
Through the living of the Baptismal Promises, we are granted a daily opportunity to live with a good conscience. Do you have a sense that you are set free from prison?
In Mark’s concise, succinct way we are given a snapshot of Jesus’s initiation into his own identity and mission. I can’t help noticing how a sense of violence is juxtaposed with the calm – chaos with stability. The heavens are torn open, but the spirit descends like a dove. Jesus sits in the wilderness with wild beasts while simultaneously being tended to by angels. The world is in chaos, but the Kingdom of God breaks in. Jesus is baptized and receives the loving affirmation of His Father, but the Spirit immediately drives Him into the wilderness. There is no time to sit and enjoy the moment of the affirmation before He must wrestle with this new, emerging identity as the Son of God. It has been said preceding every great change is a period of chaos. Identity only comes after a period of de-stabilization. Jesus’s divine vocation signals the favor of His father, but it thrusts Him into a space fraught with danger. This happens to us too when we are initiated into following Christ. We enter a period of de-stabilization that leads us into a new identity.
Are we willing to allow ourselves to be shaped by the wildernesses where the Spirit might lead us? Can we accept those wilderness places? What might that wilderness look like for you? Do you sometimes feel yourself sitting simultaneously with wild beasts and angels? How difficult is it to discern between the voice of angels and the voice of Satan?
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our LORD, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.