Because Lent in ancient Christianity was a season of the year set aside for preparing candidates for baptism, the baptism of Jesus, as presented in Mark’s Gospel, suitably anchors the theme of the First Sunday. As the reading from the First Epistle of Peter shows, early Christians saw the story of Noah and the Flood as a symbol of baptism, and Psalm 25 expresses the total commitment to God, and openness to God, that should motivate a person to be baptized.
The First Reading
The Covenant with Noah
The first biblical mention of a divine covenant embraces all living beings for all time. It locates the sign of God’s faithfulness in a permanent, natural, and universal symbol, characterizing the covenant as similarly broad and dependable.
God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “As for me, I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living being that is with you, with bird and with beast and with every animal on earth with you—from all that are emerging with you from the ark to every animal on earth. So I establish my covenant with you, that all flesh will not again be obliterated by the flood-waters, nor will there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”
God said: “This is the sign of the covenant that I am setting forth between me and you, and every living being that is with you, for endless generations—my bow I have set in the cloud, which will serve as a covenantal sign between me and the earth. So when the clouds amass over the earth and the bow appears in the cloud, I will remember my covenant between me and you, and every living being in any form, and there will not again be water for a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud I will pay attention to it, remembering the ever-present covenant between God and every living being of any form that is on the earth.”
God said to Noah: “This is the sign of the covenant that I establish between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
A Prayer for God’s Protection and Compassion
Psalm 25 alternates between petitions for God’s compassionate forgiveness of sin and pleas for the divine wisdom to ensure the psalmist will avoid future transgression. In the setting of Lent, this psalm expresses a total commitment and openness to God that should motivate a person to be baptized.
- For you, Lord, I yearn with all that I am!
- My God, in you I place my trust.
May I not suffer humiliation;
let not my enemies exult over me!
- May those who eagerly await you not suffer humiliation;
let those who act treacherously be humiliated!
- Declare your paths to me, Lord;
teach me your ways!
- Lead me along your paths of truth;
teach me, for you are the God of my deliverance;
I have always eagerly awaited you.
- Remember your compassion, Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they are eternal.
- The transgressions of my youth and my sins remember not;
in keeping with your steadfast love, remember me,
on account of your goodness, Lord.
- Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore God instructs sinners in the correct way.
- God leads the disadvantaged with justice,
teaching God’s path to the impoverished.
- All the ways of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness
for those who keep God’s covenant and decrees.
The Second Reading
1 Peter 3:18-22
Victory through Suffering
The First Epistle of Peter encourages believers by reminding them that their pledge in baptism unites them with Jesus’ victory through suffering and over death. The encouragement comes as an invitation to see the experience of Noah as symbolic of believers’ redemption.
For the Anointed also suffered once for sins—the righteous for the unrighteous—in order to lead you to God. Though put to bodily death, he was made alive in spirit. In spirit he also went and pronounced judgment to the spirits in prison, who earlier disobeyed during the days of Noah, when God waited patiently. Noah built the ark, in which only a few—eight people, in fact—were rescued through water. Immersion, the real water, now rescues you—not as a removal of filth from the body but as a pledge to God with full commitment—through the resurrection of Jesus the Anointed, who is at the right hand of God having gone into heaven, with angels, authorities, and powers put into submission to him.
The Baptism of Jesus
This reading calls attention to the link between the Spirit joining Jesus during his baptism by John and the beginning of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God. In Mark’s presentation, the reference to an encounter with Satan after the baptism is severely abbreviated, in order to present Jesus as a man like Adam except in one respect. Like Adam, Jesus is in nature, he is cared for by God, and he confronts a test. Unlike Adam, however, Jesus is empowered by the Spirit. The reference to John’s arrest in this reading alludes to when Herod Antipas ordered John’s capture (and eventual execution) because John criticized Antipas’ marriage to his brother’s former wife (Mark 6:14-29).
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was immersed in the Jordan by John. He emerged from the water and at once saw heaven split, and the Spirit settling like a dove upon him. A voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son. I take pleasure in you.” At once the Spirit threw him out into the wilderness. Forty days he was in the wilderness, tested by Satan; he was among animals, and angels provided for him.
After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the message of God by saying, “The time has come and the kingdom of God has approached: repent and believe in the message.”