Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Salvation in the sign of the rainbow

The Revised Common Lectionary works through the first three Gospels over a three year cycle, with John woven in during the Easter season and other special times. This year (Year B)  it is the turn of Mark, and that makes for a slightly odd Gospel on the first Sunday in Lent.

The season of Lent is modeled on the period of time during which Jesus withdrew to the wilderness in preparation for his three year ministry. For him it was a time of both reflection and temptation, reflecting on his divinely appointed task, and testing his ability to reject attractive but erroneous ways of trying to accomplish it. For us, Lent is a time of study, prayer, and self-denial, whose aim is to help us confront the things that tempt us away from the service of God.

Both Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at length. This year we have to make do with a mere mention – a sentence squeezed in between his Baptism and the arrest of John. Yet the lessons for this Sunday have a link that the lessons in other years lack – namely their focus on water. How is the water of Noah’s flood connected to the water of Baptism? We might think of it this way. In the story of Noah, God deals with sin by washing away all the sinful people in a frightful deluge. As subsequent history shows, however, human sin doesn’t become a thing of the past. With the sign of the rainbow, God declares his promise that such a thing will never happen again. Rather, though he uses water again, he does so in a far more subtle and spiritual way. The waters of Baptism mean death to the sinful nature of each one of us. Traditionally, Lent is a time for newcomers to prepare for this death, and for baptized Christians to reaffirm it.

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