First Sunday of Lent (B)
The Word This Week
We begin our Lenten journey at the decisive moment of the flood, when God establishes his first Covenant with man, in the person of Noah. Noah was saved from the waters, while we (as Saint Peter points out) are saved by the waters of Baptism. This is the Covenant we live in, thanks to Christ, who came to establish this “new and eternal Covenant in his blood”. He is the only one who can do this, because he is without sin, despite “having been tempted in ever way that we are”.
Notes for Readers
First Reading: Genesis 9:8-15.
The fact that the word ‘covenant’ occurs five times in this reading tells us what it is about. A Covenant is a relationship, pact or agreement between two parties - here between God and man. We read this today because it is the first definitive step God takes (after things have gone wrong in the Garden of Eden) to put things right with his creation. We will be following the story of God’s relationship with the human race over the next five weeks, to help us understand the meaning of the “new and eternal covenant” Jesus forges in his blood. This is a solemn proclamation - God speaks, and when God speaks, it happens. Read these words with a sense of awe: this is an incredible moment of human history, when the all-powerful God freely chooses to enter into a relationship with humanity. The one problem with this reading is that it is out of context: the first line, and the references to the flood are the only clue that people will have as to what is going on - so take special care to say the name of Noah very clearly. Also underline the formal declaration “See, I establish my Covenant with you...” Also emphasise the universal nature of this covenant - “with you...every living creature...everything that lives on earth.”
Second Reading:1 Peter 3:18-22.
The Second Reading on these Sundays of Lent always acts as a bridge between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. Here Peter links Noah with Christ: there are two types of water: the waters of the flood, which saved the few who believed, and the waters of baptism, which saved us. This is a very difficult reading! It is very “theological”, and the sentences are long and complicated. You must practice this out loud beforehand; otherwise it will come over as nonsense. For each sentence, try to find the main clause, and separate it out from the surrounding bits: so the main clause of the first sentence is: “Christ... died for sins,... to lead us to God.” Then it leads to the “spirits in prison” (= those who lived before Good Friday), and their refusing to believe at the time of Noah. Then the final sentence: the word “type” is a technical word, meaning a “foreshadowing”: it is not a physical washing, but a pledge, through Jesus’ resurrection.