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Sunday, 26 February 2012

                   First Sunday of Lent (B)                                            

 (Genesis 9:8-15; 1st. Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)

In the course of history God has made four covenants with man: the first being entered upon with Noah for the whole of mankind and indeed for all animal life.   Subsequently, in the course of history God made three further covenants for the good of His Chosen People through Abraham, Moses, and David, before finally a fifth covenant, for the eternal salvation of all mankind, was established in and through His incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.
You heard of the covenant with Noah in the first reading:
I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.
Never again would water be a flood to destroy life on earth: notice that connection between water and life in this the first covenant.
The terms of God’s covenant with Abraham were:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
Thus the second covenant set up a pilgrim people; a people called to set out on a journey towards the unknown following God’s guidance in complete trust.   It was a covenant of faith.
You well remember the covenant with Moses:
Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. They said, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient."   And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words."  (Exodus 24:6-8)
This, the third covenant involved obedience to the Law given by God through Moses: it was, indeed, a covenant of obedience.
The fourth covenant was that God made with David and his house:
When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.  (2 Sam 7:12,16)
In this covenant we have the promise of a Messiah, a Saviour of kingly line, whose kingdom will endure for ever.  It was a covenant of hope.
Finally we have the fifth and eternal covenant which Jesus inaugurated, and called us to enter into through baptismal faith and the Eucharist:
This is My Body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.  He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke. 22:19-20)
Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood you have no life in you. (John 6:53)
People of God, we should clearly recognise and appreciate the wonderful wisdom of our God, for this fifth covenant includes all that had gone before.  Here water is sacramentally associated with life again; but no longer is it a flood to destroy life, for now water and the word of God serve to mediate the new life of the spirit to all who believe in Jesus.  Again, as with all true descendants of Abraham our father in faith, Jesus’ redeemed people are a people of faith looking forward to that which eyes cannot see, which ears have never heard, and of which the tongue of man could never tell.  Moreover, this new People of God, the house of Jesus, are pledged to obey a teaching -- foreshadowed indeed and prepared for by the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai -- but now a law, not of letters inscribed on stone tablets, but of grace poured into our hearts by the Spirit of Jesus, enabling our response to the Gospel proclaimed to us by Mother Church, the Body of which Jesus is the supreme Head.  And finally and most fittingly, Jesus Himself, the promised Messiah, is our Saviour and Leader Who -- by His death and Resurrection -- is able and willing to make of us a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, called to sing more beautiful praises of God than even king David and all the Psalmists could bring forth.   This covenant of Jesus is a covenant of love which we must now consider more closely.
God did great things for Israel: He brought His people out of servitude in Egypt and renewed that epic event by bringing back His people from exile in Babylon.  He gave them the Law on Sinai to form them into one people, and a land in which to serve Him; as Zacharias would put it (Luke 1: 69):
            Raising up a horn of salvation for (them) in the house of His servant David.
The covenant of Jesus, however, was unimaginably new, for God would not simply perform some wondrous event, but make a pledge, in JESUS, of His unfailing love for the people He had originally chosen and then formed over more than one thousand years:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son … that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-18)
And surely can we see once again something of the wonderful beauty of God Who  is never outdone in His goodness and generous love; for here He recalls Abraham to our minds again and explains to us, so to speak, His original plan and purpose in His dealings with ‘our father in faith’:
By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, YOUR ONLY SON (words most surely expressing special appreciation and full of secret meaning), blessing I will bless you, and in your seed (the Christ, St. Paul assures us in Galations 3:16) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 3:16-18)
Just what God’s pledge of love and salvation meant and involved we were gradually revealed in the unfolding of Jesus’ life on earth -- among men and in conflict with the devil -- until it climaxed in love’s triumph on the Cross of Calvary.  God deigned to show HIS LOVE in OUR way, a way that we might be able to understand and appreciate: making it supremely perceptible (raised up on a cross by imperial Rome and the Jewish religious authorities on Calvary!) and supremely understandable in the human words and sufferings of Jesus, Our Lord.  Jesus was and is the love of God the Father made visible to us and for us.
Moreover, Jesus is the glory of the Father in our midst, for Jesus lived and died for the glory of His Father Who loves us.  And so, His gift to us of the sacrifice and sacrament of Holy Mass is the constant renewal, recalling, representation, of the Father’s unfailing offer of covenantal saving love into which we enter by faith in Jesus and confirm, above all, by our reception of the very Body and Blood of Jesus in the course of Holy Mass.
And yet, the wonder of Jesus is not thereby exhausted, for it shows itself still more when we realize that Jesus lived and died for the glory of His Father, and thereby He shows us, exhorts and enables us, to enter yet more fully into God’s covenant with mankind by our ever deeper return of love following Jesus’ example, in the power and under the inspiration and guidance of His Spirit, the Gift of both Father and Son.  Jesus draws us with Himself, after Himself, into love of the Father, by the Spirit He has bestowed on Mother Church in fulfilment of His Father’s promise, and still bestows on each and every one of us who receive His most holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
How wise is our God!  How beautiful is the revelation which Jesus and the Spirit make known to us through Mother Church, in the Scriptures!  Cleansing water bringing a new supernatural life of pilgrimage from earthly sin and death to eternal joy and divine fulfilment; a pilgrimage along a way not of our own choosing or any merely human imagining, but one marked out for us by the teaching of God’s beloved Son Who, by His own Most Holy Spirit bequeathed to us in Mother Church,  enables, inspires, and leads us to follow along His way:
This is the time of fulfilment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must never forget that before Jesus proclaimed His Good News in Israel -- before He set about healing the sick, enabling the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dumb to speak -- He was, Himself, led out into the desert to fight personally and alone against the power and cunning of Satan in the course of which He won for us a victory over our common enemy.  The fact that it was not definitive -- according to St. Luke’s Gospel (4:13) we are told that the devil who tempted Him, thereupon Departed from Him until an opportune time --was so that we ourselves, in the strength of His uniquely definitive victory over sin and death on the Cross of Calvary and in His subsequent Resurrection, might become associated with Him in His ultimate victory over the ‘sin of the world’.
Therefore, as true disciples, who aspire to further the coming of God’s Kingdom in our world of today, we must first of all -- under the guidance of the Gospel and in the power of the Spirit -- enter into more serious combat this coming Lent with our own personal sins and sinfulness, and may we, with St. Paul, thereby merit that good Christian conscience which is both the sign of a fight well fought and the pledge of eternal salvation through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.