Lessons & Prayers for the First Sunday in Lent
On Ash Wednesday the church began its journey toward baptismal immersion in the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, the Sundays in Lent lead us to focus on five covenants God makes in the Hebrew Scriptures and to use them as lenses through which to view baptism. First Peter connects the way God saved Noah’s family in the flood with the way God saves us through the water of baptism. The baptismal covenant is made with us individually, but the new life we are given in baptism is for the sake of the whole world.
Prayer of the Day
Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen, and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin. Renew us in the gift of baptism. May your holy angels be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Genesis 9:8-17 + The rainbow, sign of God’s covenant
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
1 Peter 3:18-22 + Saved through water
Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Mark 1:9-15 + The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Images in the Readings
Mark writes that Jesus was tested for forty days and forty nights. In the Bible, forty is always the time between, the necessary span before the gracious conclusion. It is forty, days or years, that numbers the rain of Noah’s flood; Moses on Mount Sinai; Israel in the wilderness; the spies scouting out Canaan; Israel in the hands of the Philistines; the taunting by Goliath; the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon; Elijah’s going to Mt. Horeb; Ezekiel’s lying on his right side; Nineveh’s repentance; and Jesus’ appearance after Easter. For us, it is forty days until the resurrection.
The gospel reading describes Satan as the tempter, the power that seeks to lure us away from God by throwing obstacles in our path. The tradition of art has not given us profound enough depictions of this primordial evil, but in Mark’s account, Satan is the opposite reality of the angels. The power of Satan is recognized also in the reference to the arrest of John the Baptist.
At least since the writing of 1 Peter, Christians have used the ark as a picture of the church—the word nave likens our buildings to a sailing ship—and the flood as an image for baptism. We know the rainbow to be a spectrum of light that is the consequence of sunlight being refracted and reflected by droplets of moisture in the atmosphere. As readers of the Hebrew Scriptures, we can use this natural phenomenon to remind us of divine mercy shining through all that rains upon us. In many places in the Old Testament, the presence of God is described as manifest in a cloud.
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