The first reading from the Book of Genesis and the passage from the Gospel of Mark that are both given to us for this First Sunday of Lent may appear to have no relationship to each other but that is not the case. As we begin this holy season, one of the themes that is presented to us is the call for the renewal of baptismal grace in each one of us. Immediately in the first reading we are given an allusion to something great that is to come: baptism.
The story of Noah and the Flood may not seem to be an image that moves us to think of baptism but what did the flood do? The flood washed away the evil that had ruined the world and, following the flood, God chose to renew his creation and bring new life back to the earth. In baptism, God chooses to do the same with us. Through those saving waters, the reign of sin is broken within each of us and we are incorporated into the mystical body of Christ. Just as God made a covenant with Noah following the flood, he also makes a personal covenant with us through baptism.
God chose to renew his creation and bring new life back to the earth. In baptism, God chooses to do the same with us.
What we don’t hear in this Sunday’s Gospel is what happens just before Jesus’s departure for the desert. Immediately preceding this episode is Mark’s account of Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. At that moment, the voice of the Father is heard acknowledging Jesus for who he is: the Son of God. The same is true for all the baptized. While it does not happen in the same dramatic fashion, God no less claims each of us as his child through baptism. It is in this saving act that we are made heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Immediately following Jesus’s baptism, Mark tells us that Jesus is driven into the desert and, surrounded by wild beasts, he is tempted by Satan. Some Scripture commentators claim that the use of the word “tempted” is not a good translation. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is clearly tempted by Satan in the desert through pleasure, honor, and power. Mark’s Gospel presents this time in the desert more as a time of testing, where Jesus is isolated and opposed by evil and the powers of the world. At times, we may find the same to be true for us. If we choose to cooperate with the grace given to us through baptism, we will find ourselves naturally in opposition to the powers of the world. At times, we may feel as though we are alone and left in desolation, like Job whom we heard about two Sundays ago. However, Mark also tells us that angels came to minister to Jesus.
As with Jesus, so it is with us, the covenant that God has made with us is never broken by him. We are never forsaken or abandoned, even in moments that seem to be the most trying for us.
During this Lenten season, the Church invites us to seek the grace of God to renew the baptism that each of us has received. Let us make the most of this sacred time so that we may always remember who we are and whose we are: heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven and sons and daughters of God. We may be tested at times, but we are never forgotten or left alone.
Father Christopher House is the Rector-Pastor of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia.