1st Sunday in Lent

March 12, 2000
See Also: 

Lenten Candle Liturgy
John Cobb on redemption
Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus (Cobb)

Reading 1: 
Genesis 9:8-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 25:1-10
Reading 3: 
1 Peter 3:18-22
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:9-15
By Tari Lennon

And so Epiphany, with its images of star spangled nights, wandering astrologers, menacing kings, relieved first-time parents, and shiny new babies, comes to a close.

And Lent begins.

If Epiphany asks us to look up and behold, to see God's activity in the very stars, the heavenly skies, Lent asks us to look down and understand-into the watery depths of life's birthplace, into the baptismal fount of new life.

The new direction of the spiritual journey and the new images do not change the centerpiece of the spiritual journey; they simply alter the focus. That centerpiece is as it was at the end of Epiphany: relationships.

In the Genesis passage God expresses concern regarding relationships; those destroyed by flood and those surviving, including animals and the earth itself. It is almost as if the flood, which God orchestrated, has created a cacophony disruptive to the Divine. The catastrophe may have caused havoc for Noah and his family but it has caused something of a crisis for God. The devastation has forced God to review God's own needs. Through loss God has come to value God's own need for dialogue and engagement with human beings and all of creation.

In a poignant moment, God moves to assure humans that God will never act thusly again. But in truth, God reaches into the bag of divine resources and pulls out a bow that God will place in the sky, in part to assure human beings, but in larger part, to act as a reminder to God never use water to drown and destroy again. The bow becomes a symbol for the colorful possibilities and promises of a covenant between God and the creation-a symbol made possible by the refraction of light through water. That which was at one moment the instrument of death now becomes the vehicle of renewal and hope.

This can be a powerful message for the Lenten journey: the very pieces and parts of our lives that seem to be destroying us may be the instruments of God's reclamation. To discover the what and how of that insight could be come the foci of the six-week adventure.

The image of the flood refracted through Jesus becomes baptism in the Gospel. Baptism becomes a new way of consenting to a relationship with God and to saying yes to God's desire to be in relationship. The Gospel passage suggests a Theophanous moment for Jesus when he consents publicly to being in relationship with God. So powerful is the moment for Jesus that it gives clear meaning and direction to his life, meaning and direction that will be transformational for him and salvific for others.

That salvific process is addressed in a novel way in the Petrine material. The author connects Noah and the flood to (Jesus) Christ and baptism. Baptism is not to be viewed as an act designed to wash away dirt from the body. Rather is it to be seen as affirmation of a relationship that inspires desire for good conscience-the gift of discernment, the ability to discern-even as Jesus discerned in the moment of his baptism the power and possibilities of intentional and committed relationship with God, and openness to God's
relationship to and through the one consenting and committing.

Another creative way in which to engage with Lent is to use the six weeks to consider and reflect on the ways in which God and I are partnered and influenced by one another, as opposed to the one-way reliance/dependency on God taught and passed on in more traditional understandings of God's way with us.

Covenant is the Biblical code word for all the empowering possibilities of life lived in relationship both for God and human beings. In deeply personal and moving ways the Psalmist captures the reciprocal nature of life lived in covenant by appealing to God for direction, guidance-a path, in the day-to-day, suggesting that God, too, will get something for responding with assistance: more faithfulness, greater appreciation, and the modification of treachery. A win-win if there ever was one.

The task for Lent then, is to take on those strategies and disciplines which will encourage/enhance discernment, i.e., renewal of the baptismal affirmation of "God at the center of life, life made new through relationship with God."

The Rev. Dr. Tari Lennon is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds degrees in theology, ministry and psychology. She retired from parish ministry after 43 years and now convenes Open Gatherings which draws people together from all faiths and nonfaiths to explore topics of spirituality, relationships, and personal ethics.