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First Sunday of Lent

Readings:

  • Genesis 9:8-15
  • Psalm 25:4-9
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22
  • Mark 1:12-15

The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. With this formula (from Isaiah) Christ opens his public ministry. The spirit has driven him out into the desert to do battle with Satan surrounded by wild beasts and angels. By retreating into the desert he reminds people in his immediate, pithy, text-type style of communication of their formation as an Exodus people. He is the new Moses leading his people, forming them, and struggling with their reluctance to be led. He reminds his people of their history and reminds us of the Lenten desert we have just entered.

In Galilee, after John is arrested, and the days of the Old Testament, the Old Covenant are over, he preaches again. Repent and believe in the Gospel is the initial and constant message. We have to follow Christ into the desert to battle with the demons of doubt, with the wild beasts of desire and to allow ourselves to be protected and guided by faith and by the angels. We have to enter covenant again.

We don’t enter into covenant easily. We see the evidence of broken covenants all around us and the flood of sin which is sweeping away the landmarks which marked out the limits of decent society and honourable behaviour. Temptation and the wild beasts have been let loose and the prevailing covenant is with the world and all its promises.

The lonely voice of the prophet, the constant call of the God of the scriptures, and the first public words of the Word made flesh is a challenge to come away for a while from the excesses of our lives, to confront the true nature of our behaviour, and to set our hearts and minds on the demands of our covenant with God, the demands of Christian love.

The constant call of the scriptures is to return to the way we know to be right and just. It is a constant offering of forgiveness and a constant ‘now’ of opportunity. If we don’t confront the difficulties and temptations now, the greater the difficulty later and the harder the heart becomes.

The spirit of evil, the lure of sin and our slavery to death are powerful realities and formidable adversaries. Temptation is a daily reality, life a constant struggle and a series of difficult choices between the demands of the self and the demands of covenant with God and with others.

Lent asks us to choose again.

Choose covenant, with God and with others, or isolation, the ways of faithfulness and love or the lonely way of indulgent self-interest. Choose the way that leads to life or the road that ends in death. The privilege and freedom to choose is ours.

The ways are well travelled and distinctly marked. Repentance and faith are the signposts which mark the beginning of our chosen way. It leads through the waters of baptism, into the desert of life, over the river of death and on into the promised land of eternal life.