|The Temptation of Christ -- Surikov|
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, which makes for a slightly odd Gospel on the first Sunday in Lent.
The season of Lent is modeled on Jesus' retreat to the wilderness in preparation for his three year ministry, and the 'forty days' the Gospels say he spent there. For him it was a time of both reflection and temptation -- reflection on his divinely appointed task, and the temptation to prefer attractive but inadequate ways of trying to accomplish it. For us, accordingly, Lent is a time of study, prayer, and self-denial, whose aim is to help us reflect on, and confront, all 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. In this year, however, we have to make do with a mere mention – a sentence Mark squeezes 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. The Old Testament lesson points us to the water of Noah’s flood, while the Epistle expressly connects this with the water of Baptism that figures in the Gospel.
|Rainbow -- Turner|
But precisely what is the connection? We might think of it this way. In the story of Noah, God deals with sin by a frightful deluge that washes away all the sinful people . As subsequent history shows, however, human sin doesn’t thereby become a thing of the past. Yet, with the sign of the rainbow, God nevertheless promises that such a thing will never happen again. At the Jordan, God uses water again, but in a more subtle and spiritual way. The waters of Baptism signify death to the sinful nature of each one of us. But it is a death, paradoxically, that we must live into. Traditionally, Lent is a time for newcomers to accept this death, and for baptized Christians to reaffirm it.