By Fr. Paul Winter Parish Priest, Clarence Valley Parish
Our readings today speak very much of the power and tremendous love of God.
From before time began, before the universe was created, God has been calling us to be with him, to live in his love for all eternity. God creates all of existence purely out of love. He creates you and me simply because he loves you and me and wants us to love him back.
All throughout the Scriptures we hear again and again of the Covenants that God has made with humanity. The Covenant is much more than just a legal contract. It is a solemn and intimate relationship entered into by the Almighty God and his chosen people. Each agrees to be faithful to that relationship. To break that relationship is to forfeit your life.
In the first reading we hear about the covenant God made with Noah. In the second reading from the 1st Letter of Peter, the flood and the covenant with Noah is shown to be a forerunner of Christian baptism. In the Gospel, Jesus announces the beginning of the New Covenant – the reign of God among us.
The Scriptures are a history of humanity’s continual infidelity to the covenants that God makes with us; and the Scriptures are a history of God’s infinite mercy showered on us.
Humanity’s disobedience to the Covenants results in separation from God, separation from his love and separation from life itself. But God’s merciful love is so great that He does not give up on us but instead He renews his covenant again and again, bringing us back into his life giving love again and again. First with Noah, then with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and finally, and most powerfully, in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
In Jesus Christ we receive the final and the greatest of the covenants. As the prophet Ezekiel prophesied:
Ezekiel 36:26-27 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (NRSV)
This new covenant has been sealed in the blood of Christ. It is the reign of the life-giving Father that Jesus proclaimed in his ministry. We enter into this New Covenant through our baptism, by worship through participating in the Sunday Mass, which is the Liturgy of the New Covenant, and by living lives of faith through grace. In doing so, the Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus and his Father more deeply each day.
Through our baptism we have become a new creation. In baptism we died with Christ so now we live in the power of his resurrection, it is he who lives in us.
Since the beginning, the Church has seen the very colourful story of Noah and the flood as a symbol of baptism. Just as all the weakness of the flesh was destroyed, and humanity was given a new beginning, through the waters of the flood, so all our sins and weaknesses die in the waters of baptism and we are reborn in the very life and strength of Christ.
We now share in Jesus’ life. Just as Jesus was tested for forty days in the desert (and throughout all his life), so we too experience times of hardship, temptation and growth. But no longer are we helpless in the face of sin and death, we have the power of Christ to draw on – his Holy Spirit. We can say yes to God and no to sin through his power. This is true freedom, true Life.
This is at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry and message. In the Gospel today we hear what Jesus’ Good News is:
Mark 1:12-15 ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
The call to repentance, to change our ways, our attitudes, to reject sin and turn towards God is not a call to hardship but a call to life rather than death. It is the way we accept the great gift of the New Covenant that God in Jesus offers to us. To repent is a joyous thing – it is to accept the wonderful life and love of God. It is to be a healed person, a healthy person.
In this time of repentance let us make more use of the wonderful gift of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), where the Lord is waiting with open arms, not to merely forgive us but to heal us and help us on the life giving road of repentance and faithfulness to the Covenant.
This Lent, may we make the most of the opportunities that God gives us to repent, to make a new beginning, to be healed and so live in the light and be his instruments of healing and reconciliation in the world today.