Lent I Sunday 21st February 2021 Year B
If one was looking for a link between today’s three readings, one would have to plump for ‘water’. The water of the flood - which Noah and seven others survived; the water used in washing as referenced by St.Peter and Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, as recorded by St.Mark.
Water, aside, it is sin and forgiveness which is actually the linking theme between this morning’s Scripture readings.
Noah, despite, his past and future faults (which were many - just read on in Genesis, after the ark came to rest) was deemed a good enough man by God to be saved from the flood. Noah, survives with his family and menagerie, in order to re-populate God’s world, afresh. After God has destroyed those he deemed to be unworthy of his mercy. Whether or not the flood and associated destruction happened is not, I think, important. What is important is that God doesn’t really ever give up on his creation. God, was cross and angry with humanity and our stupid ways but even in his anger he did not desire to wipe us out completely. He wanted to purge us of our sins and to give us a second chance. That’s why he gave Clan Noah a reprieve - hoping that they and their descendants might get it right in the future.
He also made a covenant with them. The covenant, symbolised by the rainbow, proved to Clan Noah, that however cross God was with them, he would never seek to destroy them (or us) but he would warn them to amend their behaviour. I doubt it will be God who will wipe us out, we will probably do that ourselves quite well.
A covenant is an interesting relationship to have established with humanity. A covenant implies that each party is mutually responsible to the other for all time. A covenant is not a contract where ‘X’ does ‘Z’ for ‘Y’ and that’s that. A covenant is much longer lasting and needs working at to develop and survive. A good example of a living and developing covenant is marriage; where each party has voluntarily declared that they will love and support the other through thick and thin, for the length of their lives. Covenants can be broken as we all know, but the hopeful intention is that they will last, even if the reality proves the difference.
God’s hope for us his creation is that we will respect him and his ways; caring for the creation as much as he does. That’s God’s hope - the reality is that we - humanity, have a lot of work to do in order to live up to our side of the covenant. God, however, won’t give up on us anytime soon as he knows we are weak and feeble and that we need encouragement and forgiveness, time and time and time again.
We have to recognise our faults and to apologise for them and that’s where our worship comes in. Worship is an opportunity for us to say; ‘sorry’ to God and to re-affirm the covenant between him and us and then to celebrate the fact that God will always forgive us and welcome us back into the covenant. That covenant is one which says that God will love and care for us and we will love and worship God.
In worship we have opportunities to say sorry for the times we muck things up and hurt others, ourselves and God. We say sorry liturgically, through the general confession (or one to one in the sacrament of confession). When we do so, we re-affirm our intention to live a life in the covenant with God.
In the Early Church, many were not Baptised until they were on their deathbeds as they feared that once Baptised any future sin might not be forgiven by God as Baptism symbolically represented a total forgiveness of sins past. The Roman Emperor Constantine was a good example of this. He was Baptised as he was dying and died believing that he had been forgiven all the very awful things he had done in his life and reign.
Our understanding of God’s mercy has changed and grown over the past two millennia and we are assured that we are loved and forgiven, because of what Christ did for us on the cross.
Christ redeemed us on the cross, his death won our salvation for all time. That redemption can never be lost, whatever we may or may not do. We, however, need to acknowledge our sins and faults and to confess them with sorrow.
This is not a ‘cop-out’ for us. When we confess we have to do so with a truly sorrowful heart or else we won’t be forgiven. What’s the point of saying sorry to God or anyone if we don’t mean it? God expects us to respond to him as a mature, sensible adult; one who knows themselves well, acknowledging their good points and weaknesses, successes and failures and committed to doing the best we can at anytime.
We all make mistakes and that’s okay. God forgives those errors as soon as we regret them. What we have to be aware of are those deliberate or malicious acts that we may make. ‘Do unto others, as you’d wish them to do unto you’ is a phrase worth remembering and living by. It helps us to understand what sin is - for it is when we deliberately or with malice a forethought do something hurtful or bad. When we simply muck things up, it is not sin just a mistake that we can quickly put right. Sin, malice, bad acts - these need to be confronted, acknowledged and God’s forgiveness sought.
Lent is a good time for all of us to examine our consciences; to seek out those dark things we need to illumine and to ‘put them away’ - as a version of the absolution states.
What might you need to ‘put away’ this Lent?
Try and use these forty plus days of Lent to think about this and use the words of the General Confession in the Eucharist to cleanse yourself of the things you no longer need to carry around anymore. God certainly does not want you to be burdened with sin, he wants to forgive you. It is ourselves that all too often fear the loss of the burden, for what might we replace it with? Joy and freedom might be a good replacement.