The familiar story of Noah, saved in the ark from a catastrophic deluge, is something more than a children’s story. It is, for sinful humanity, the description of a broken relationship with God. The early chapters of Genesis described humanity as created in the image and likeness of God, uniquely blessed with his friendship. The incursion of sin ate away at that friendship, until, by the time of Noah’s generation, the Lord God “saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth and that the thoughts of his heart fashioned nothing but wickedness all day long”.
This simple narrative is not, ultimately, a story of destruction and judgment. It describes the restored friendship that a loving God calls forth from the darkness of our sin. “See, I establish Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.”
Noah, living among a sinful people, believed that there could be a new beginning for his family and humanity. His story speaks to every succeeding generation that has felt itself overwhelmed by the rising flood of its own sin and faithlessness.
At the beginning of Lent, let us acknowledge our sinfulness, with the psalmist: “Out of depths I cry to you O Lord, Lord hear my voice.”
Let us never forget that it was the catastrophe of man’s sinfulness that called forth the deliverance of Noah, that prompted a new covenant between God and humanity. On Ash Wednesday we acknowledged our sinfulness. It doesn’t end there. In the days ahead the Lord renews in us, as he did in Moses, an eternal covenant of love.
The first Letter of St Peter makes baptism the focus of our Lenten journey. As Noah was delivered from the waters of the deluge, so we, through the waters of Baptism, are brought to new life in Christ. On this first Sunday of Lent, in the Rite of Election, people throughout the world begin their formal preparation for baptism at Easter. Step by step they abandon lives lived without faith so as to receive the fullness of life with Christ in the waters of baptism.
Let us accompany them not only with our prayers, but with the witness of our lives. Let us enable this Lent to become a renewal of the life entrusted to us at baptism. Then we shall come to Easter and the renewal of baptismal promises with hearts made new.
How do we begin Lent? It is at times difficult to overcome life’s inertia, to summon the energy that embraces Lent as a new beginning.
Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness leads into prayer and reflection. The wilderness temptations were linked to the baptism of Jesus immediately preceding. “Immediately afterwards the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness and he remained for 40 days, and was tempted by Satan.”
At his baptism Jesus had been anointed with the Spirit as the suffering servant whose ministry would be the fulfilment of the Father’s will. Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not describe the nature of these temptations. It was a time when Jesus faced everything that might undermine his ministry as the beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased.
Lent is a time apart, the acknowledgment of everything that has diminished in us the image of Christ, the life entrusted to us at baptism.