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Bulletin: February 21, 2021

First Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings suggest two different meanings and experiences of baptism. The second reading (from 1 Peter) makes an analogy between Noah’s ark and Christian baptism: just as Noah and his family were saved from death by going through the waters of the flood in the ark, Christians are saved from sin and death by going through the waters of baptism. The first reading, from Genesis, portrays the world after the flood: washed clean of its prior wickedness, embraced by God’s promises that the world will never again be destroyed by water. The psalmist expresses a desire to follow the ways of God, as if re-establishing the harmony between God and humanity destroyed by sin. This peaceful scene is very different from the drama and urgency in Mark’s description of Jesus after his baptism. Jesus battles demons, receives sustenance from angels, and begins preaching: “Repent. The kingdom of God is at hand.”


You probably did not get that greeting from your priest today, and you probably did not expect it. Isn’t Lent a time of reflection and repentance? Somber purple, no “Alleluias”? Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; attending to one’s relationship with God?

True enough; however, there are Lenten practices that have a festive air woven into these penitential elements. One example is in the Church’s retrieval of ancient Lenten practices that made up the final preparation of persons elected to receive the Easter sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist. Jesus’ urgent preaching in today’s passage from Mark comes soon after his own baptism and reminds us that these sacraments still signal a dramatic change in a person’s life: they have responded to Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom and are now publicly professing themselves to be disciples of the Lord and fully initiated members of his visible church. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent were part of that preparation. Repentance was then, and remains today, important also for those already fully initiated; the work of repentance, of prayerfully examining our lives and making changes in anticipation of God’s reign, is an ongoing aspect of our life in Christ.


Other changes with baptism are more subtle and personal. When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, they saw that the floodwaters had receded after cleansing the world of human sinfulness. Everything was clean and fresh—a new creation, with a rainbow to guarantee God’s promise to never again destroy the world with water. So, too, will the newly baptized emerge from the font and be anointed with chrism. Like the earth after the great flood, they are a new creation. Washed clean of sin and anointed with chrism, they are renewed in the embrace of the God of covenant love.

This is why Lent is always a festive anticipation of Easter and always about baptism, just as it is always about the repentance that draws us more deeply into God’s kingdom.

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