First Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2018

Deacon Blaine Barclay


The first and second reading today both refer to the story of Noah’s Ark.  The universal flood that cleansed the world from sin and made possible a new beginning for humanity.  The waters of the flood have always been understood as a prefigurement, a ‘type’ of the waters of Baptism; and Noah’s Ark as a prefigurement of the Church.  Baptism cleanses us from sin and holds out for us the new beginning of life in Christ. Before the flood, before baptism, there is the old creation, after the flood, after baptism, there is new life, new creation, gestating in the Ark that is the Church.  This Sunday is also the Rite of Election for the candidates for baptism at the Easter vigil, which give us another reason for reflecting on these matters.

In our gospel today, Jesus is Baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin John the Baptist.  Jesus’ Baptism was not a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. For Jesus had no sins to forgive.  As the author of the book of Hebrews says, ’He was like us in all things except sin’.  But Jesus’ Baptism was for him a new beginning. It marked the end of his old hidden life, and the beginning of his public ministry. It was also followed by forty days of fasting, solitude, and prayer, a prefigurement of Lent; an extensive period of spiritual exercises that even Jesus needed to cultivate.  The Holy Spirit drove him into the wilderness where he was tempted, ‘tempered’ for the arduous mission of his public life.

Our gospel today ends with the call to Repentance. ’’Repent and believe in the good news,’’ it says. These are the same words spoken when we received the Ashes of repentance on Ash Wednesday.  So, the readings today are about Baptism and Repentance. There is an intimate connection between baptism and repentance, between baptism and conversion. The New Testament greek word that gets translated as ’repentance’ is ’metanoia’.  It literally means to ’change your mind’, but it is deeper and far more transformative then that. We can of course change our minds about trivial matters, what shirt to wear, wether to eat rice or potatoes. Repentance however, is not just on the surface. Jesus said ‘Repent’, not ‘Repaint’. This word of repentance can also be translated as ’turn around’, ‘change your heart’, or, ‘the turning around of the soul’, which is to say the whole person.  Each one of us is called to repentance and conversion of lifestyle. Baptism initiates us into this ’turned around’ life.  St. Paul says, ’Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’, (Rom.3:14) and, ‘We have the mind of Christ’ (I Cor.2:16), and this is no small matter.

The mind and heart of our fallen humanity has been colonized and seduced by the false attraction of sin; which these days has powerful engines of persuasion, the advertising industry, and screen culture to market its consumer way of life.  Jesus has come into our lives up to show us a different way.  Not just to show us the way, but to himself be that way for us.  He is, ’The way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn.14:6). In baptism we are joined to Christ; given a full participation in his way of being.  This is a given, God has acted decisively in Christ, and initiated us into this new regenerated humanity.  Repentance and conversion are our disciplined lifestyle response to what has already been given to us in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, the three Sacraments of Initiation.

The Lenten call to repentance and conversion reaches down into all the sedimented layers of who we are, all those areas of our lives that stand in need of the many disciplines of discipleship.  Our emotional lives, how we cultivate the use of our imaginations, inform our conscience, instruct our intellect, exercise our wills, cultivate a healthy lifestyle.  Jesus came to save the whole person, to heal us and to make us whole. The Gospel is medicine for our wounded humanity.  ‘Holiness is Wholeness’, as I have heard said. St. Irenaeus express this in the 2nd century as, ’’the glory of God is the human being fully alive’’.  Each one of us is created for a life of virtue, of human excellence. Each according to our own measure.  We are made for Beatitude, for the vision of God, to be together the image of Christ in the world. God want us to flourish, to maximize our participation in our own humanity. In the midst of the torrent of this world, sheltered together in the Ark which is the Church of God. On this side of the flood, on this side of baptism, there is new life, new creation, embedded in our daily Lenten lives, preparing oursel