Saturday, February 28, 2009

The New Flood

(1st Sunday of Lent, B)

As we begin this holy season of Lent, the gospel we hear today picks up where we left off at the end of the Christmas season. Seven weeks ago, we concluded the Christmas season with the feast of the baptism of the Lord. Today we hear the result of that baptism: Jesus is pushed into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. Having fasted for forty days, Jesus emerges victorious over Satan and begins to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.

The other readings we have today help us to remember that these three moments in Jesus’ life go together: baptism, temptation in the desert, preaching the Kingdom. To explore this, the liturgy today invites us to go all the way back to Noah. Surely you recall the story of Noah and his family. God became displeased with the creation and decides to make a fresh start of things. God sends the flood to destroy the earth so that everything can start over with Noah’s family and the animals they brought with them on the ark. After the flood is over, God makes a covenant with Noah in which he promises never to destroy the world again. God vows, “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”

Now, as we hear from St. Peter in the second reading, the flood “prefigures” our baptism. The flood is like a foreshadowing that helps us to understand what our baptism means. Just as Noah and his family were raised above the flood in the ark, so we who go through the waters of baptism rise with Christ and are saved from the sin that so often cripples human life and destiny in this world.

Recall how God promised never to destroy the world again like he did in with the flood. But it’s not like us who live after the flood are any better than the wicked folks who lived before the flood, those who led God to want to make a whole new start of the creation. So, seeing the world continue to struggle with sin, seeing the world in which we persist in making ourselves and each other miserable with our sins, God again sends the waters upon the world. But this is not the violent, in-your-face waters of the first flood; this is the new flood of our baptism through which God recreates us gently from within.

The flood prefigures the baptism we share with Christ because it is again through water that God seeks to re-create the world. God sends the new flood of baptism by which our lives are re-created in a quiet, secret, and gentle way. But the new flood is no less powerful and insistent than the old. God will not be thwarted in his desire to bring the world to perfection. Our baptism is a quiet, persistent, unstoppable revolution against sin and death.

Lent is an opportunity for us to prepare for the renewal of the promises of our baptism at Easter. As the Spirit drove the newly baptized Jesus into the desert for forty days so that he might contend and have victory over Satan, so may we allow the grace of our baptism to drive us deep into the forty days of this Lent. May we allow the victory of Jesus to take over our lives. In his grace, we may prepare ourselves for the renewal of our dying and rising in the new flood of baptism.

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