LENT 1 – 2015 – SERMON – Sunday 22/02/15 – SMAA, Christchurch
Genesis 9: 8-17 1 Peter 3:18-22 MARK 1:9-15
The Lectionary Readings, which have been agreed to by both Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches around the world, have this little note in the Missal for this First Sunday in Lent: “At the beginning of Lent, we renew our response to the Covenant, the pact of love that God has made with each of us in our Baptism”. It ask us to imagine what good news it would have been to Noah, alone in a drowned world, when he learned that God’s love had not abandoned – nor ever would abandon – the earth or its creatures. Not only in the Jewish tradition, but also in other archaic traditions, like that of the ancient Sumerians, there is a story of the great flood which encompassed the earth soon after the creation of human beings on the earth.
It would seem that humanity had very early on been subject to the problems of the Fall – the rebellion of human beings (shown in the Bible in the story of the mythical Adam and Eve) – necessitating a new start in the relationship between God and Creation. This was reflected in the experience of Noah and his family, when God told them that he was going to establish a new Covenant with them and with all creation. This would be seen in the provision of the rainbow in the clouds – signalling the end of the great flood, and the establishment of a brand new covenant of relationship between God and all created beings on the earth.
Rainbows have always meant something special for me. Not just because of the story of Noah and the Ark, but also because of the fact that God had promised He would never again abandon his human children to the devastation of such a catastrophe. I remember once being told by a friend in Auckland, that, at the very moment her mother died, she had become aware of a wonderful double-rainbow appearing in the clouds above her house – as though God was saying to her that her mother was now at peace, and that she, personally, would never be abandoned by God. Since that time, I have always been reminded of God’s love for me, and for the whole of creation, whenever I see the rainbow.
In Peter’s First Letter to the Early Church, he carries this comforting story forward – in the promise given to us by our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This experience is meant to assure us of God’s never–failing love for us. In our Baptism, we have been given new life – a life which begins at that time and which gives us entry into eternal life, which Jesus has secured for all who belong to him. This belonging is renewed, every time we partake of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood in the Eucharist. In this way, we are renewing that which, by the waters of Baptism, as Saint Paul says: “has saved us, and which is not the washing away of physical dirt, but a pledge made to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered the heavens and is now at God’s right hand!” We need to realise that, every time we receive the Holy Communion, we are, effectively, renewed in our Baptism and our commitment to God, and in God’s commitment to us as God’s children, and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We live in a fallen world, a world in which we are only too aware of the existence of sin and the possibility of evil – where people like the members of ISIS claim that killing other people in the name of God is what God wants. It is very important that we distance ourselves from such an understanding of what God might require of us. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the God of Vengeance that ISIS and Al Qaida would have us believe in. In fact, the very opposite is the case. In sending Jesus into the world to share our frail human nature, God was taking upon God’s-Self the frailty that this signified. In sharing that frail humanity and bearing it on the Cross, Jesus was clearly demonstrating God’s love and concern for us. In offering Himself for our redemption, Jesus was signifying God’s forgiveness of our sins. By absorbing in his own Body on the Cross the culpability and aggression of His enemies, Jesus was offering all humanity release from the consequences of our wrong-doing. In the wilderness, after his own Baptism and empowering by the Holy Spirit to resist temptation by the devil, Jesus was overcoming his assumed human frailty by acts of self-denial.
When we look at the temptations Jesus resisted, we see that each one was a temptation to deny his human limitations, and to put himself into a position of self-glorification as Son of God. The devil suggested that Jesus perform a miracle by turning stones into bread. If Jesus had done this, he would have served only himself and his own physical hunger – something that he knew would not serve God’s purpose. The next temptation was to gain instant power by becoming a disciple of the devil, in the expectation of ruling the world; this, Jesus resisted. Finally, the devil invited him to cast himself down from the parapet of the Temple, to see if God would send his angels to rescue him – thus by-passing the need for Jesus’ redeeming ministry of healing and reconciliation; his death and resurrection.
Jesus was able to resist these temptations to instant self-satisfaction and glorification, because he knew instinctively that would short-circuit the ministry of healing and reconciliation that His Father had in mind for him. Jesus knew that if he sought instant glory – without moving through with the path of service that the father had in mind for him – this would be a frustration of the will and purpose of God in allowing for his Incarnation as a human being; which was designed to demonstrate God’s loving purpose of redemption, through the loving self-sacrifice of God himself; in the divine and human being of Jesus.
This Lent then, beginning with the Ash Wednesday ceremony of Ashing, which reminds us of our common human frailty, we are invited to walk with Jesus on the forty-day pilgrim journey of prayer and fasting in the wilderness – in order to celebrate with him in the Solemn Liturgical traditions of Holy Week and Easter, when we will have the opportunity to share the experience of the Last Supper, the abandonment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Maundy Thursday Vigil; the dramatic recital of the Passion and Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; the desolation of Holy Saturday – when we come together as a family to clean and decorate the church in preparation for the Vigil of Easter. Then, finally, we greet the Light of Christ in the Paschal Candle, and renew our Baptismal Vows around the Font in preparation for the First Mass of Easter, wherein we altogether participate in the risen and glorified life of Christ.
I hope you all can participate in as much of the Lenten and Easter ceremonies as possible – including the Stations of the Cross, which will be taking place this afternoon at 5 o’clock, before Taize at 7pm. Then, each Sunday Evening during Lent at 5 o‘clock, preceding the service of Evensong and Benediction at 7pm.
If there is anyone who was not able to be at one of the Ash Wednesday services who would like to receive the ashes now, I would be happy to provide an opportunity for them. Furthermore, if anyone would like to make a formal confession during the Lenten season, either Fr. Andrew or I would be happy to oblige at a time to be arranged. May God help us all to observe as good and Holy Lent. Amen
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand