Genesis 9:8-15, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:12-15
Lent is a time of sacrifice, prayers, and a close relationship with God. Everything about the readings of today expresses the meaning of lent. It reveals our expectations during the lent period and what God sincerely demands from us.
Lent comes from the word lencten, an Old English word meaning springtime, spring” and langitinaz “from West Germanic word meaning long-days or lengthening of the day.
It means a long day of the spring. Spring is a season that comes after the winter period. During the winter season, the weather becomes cold because of snow and frost. Works and jobs are affected, trees lose their leaves, and things become stagnant.
So, Spring comes as a time of renewal, the weather begins to turn warmer, grasses begin to appear greener and trees start to regain their leaves.
So lent is not just a time we become like people suffering and gloomy. It is a time of renewal, a long period of grace. Yes, it is a forty-day journey with prayer and fasting and alms-giving, but a time we strengthen our covenant and relationship with God. The whole readings of today point to this.
Forty Days Period of Divine Encounter.
1. The period of divine encounter is a time we set aside for God. It is a time of solemn and beautiful moments with God. It is the period we set to remain close to God and especially encounter Him. We do this through retreats, prayers, recollection, fasting etc. At this time, God remains our closest companion.
Immediately after His baptism, Jesus goes into the desert to have a time of retreat and communion with the father. He was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Hence, the Lenten period is also a forty-day encounter with God like the one with Jesus.
One thing with 40 days is that it points to a time of suffering, trials etc. But always end in revival, a new beginning and victory. Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24: 10-18) before he brought the commandments. He had a 40-day encounter with God.
Noah built the ark for 40 days. The flood also took 40 days, and the earth was destroyed and renewed. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah to strengthen His relationship with the people.
The Israelites wandered through the desert 40 years before reaching the promised land. It was forty years of temptation, agony and trial but ended in a new beginning.
2. So the forty days of lent is also a time of encounter with God like Moses and Jesus in today’s gospel reading. Remember, the gospel reading says that the angels were with Him.
3. It is forty days of flood and renewal. It is a period God uses to wash away the dirt of the earth, as first Peter recounts in the second reading.
So this is a time we have to ask God to wipe away our sins. The second reading says that Jesus died once for the sake of our sins, and the Lenten period is a time we do remember what Jesus did for us so that we can gain salvation. Lent is the time to return to the land of promise and claim our blessings again. Like the Israelites who wandered forty years before they reached the promised land.
According to 1 Kings 19:8, Elijah fasted for 40 days and nights during his journey to the mountain of God. So in the same vein, we are on a long journey to encounter God again and deeply in our lives.
4. Lent is a period of a prayerful encounter. Like Jesus, this is the time we have to go away from the world and have a moment of retreat. A retreat is a time to withdraw from a battle. It is a term used by soldiers, especially when they feel that they have to re-strategize.
They withdraw to ask themselves questions and know what works and what does not work.
Like Jesus, this is the time we have to withdraw from the crowd and examine ourselves again and know why things are happening the way they are happening.
It is a time to re-strategize again and gain spiritual strength to conquer our life battles. We must not glory in sin every time. We need this time to come back to God again.
Lent is not a time we fold our hands and do our business as usual. The problem is that today, many care little about their spiritual lives. They only remember God when things come against them. When things fight against us, we forget we have abandoned God all these while without having a single moment with the Him.
There are some demands the church expects of Christians in this Lenten time. We can find these expectations in the readings of today.
1. We have to Strengthen our Relationship with God
We have to renew our relationship with God again. All through creation, we see how God brings people to Himself and establishes a covenant with them. In the first reading, we can find God’s covenant with Noah after the flood.
After creation, God was angry because of the wickedness among men and then decided to destroy the world with the flood. In the flood narrative of Genesis 6:5-9:17, we can see an increase in human sinfulness. This started with the fall of man in Genesis 3.
In Genesis 6:6, God regretted ever creating man and, hence decided to wipe everything away from the earth. But God did not wipe everything. God protected Noah and his household. God did this so that man will continue His command in Genesis 1:26-27.
After the flood, God also repeated this command three times (Genesis 8:17, 9:1, and 9:7). So, the flood was like a recreation of the earth. It is like a time of a new beginning. In the first reading of today, we see God making a covenant with Noah. He promises that never will flood wipe away the face of the earth again.
In this reading, we see a moment of new beginning, renewal and relationship with God. Covenant is like an agreement that binds us to God.
At baptism, there are some promises we made that we are yet to keep them.
Today, our lives are to an extent very far from God. We have wandered away in disbelief, wickedness and sinful living like the people of Noah’s time.
Wickedness and hatred have invaded our homes and families. Like today’s reading, we need time to interact with God like Noah did, a time to renew our relationship with God and start again and a time to strengthen our relationship with God.
2. We have to Repent and Believe in the Gospel.
Repentance is always the keyword during the Lenten season. After His forty days of the desert experience, Jesus begins to proclaim the keywords that summarize his coming “to repent and believe in the gospel.
The second reading says that the death of Jesus is to lead us to God. So, the lent is a time of grace to lead us back to God again.
The theme that surrounds this Lenten time is to repent; to turn back to God and away from evil. And then have faith in God’s word. We should not allow ourselves to be defeated by problems and live like people who do not have faith in God.
3. We need a Desert Experience.
We need a desert experience, we need to have a constant prayerful encounter with God. In His desert experience, Jesus was tempted, but He defeated the devil.
After His desert experience, He came out full of power. According to Luke’s narrative, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit after His desert experience (Luke 4;14). He then begins to go about doing good and preaching the word, touching lives. We also need a desert experience. It is through this that we can regain our spiritual strength.
4.Instruments of Converting Souls.
According to the gospel, After His desert experience, Jesus moved into Galilee and was preaching the gospel. People were touched and saved through Him. Our encounter with God at this time should make us become living instruments of the gospel. When people meet you, they should encounter Jesus and not darkness.
5. Put the Body to Death.
Death means cessation of life. It means a total end to something. Galatians 5:17 says that the desires of the flesh are always in conflict with that of the Spirit, and the Spirit is contrary to the flesh.
The spirit and the flesh conflict with each other. In verse 16, Paul advises that we should walk by the spirit and not by the gratification of the flesh. So to put to death the desires of the flesh is a way to strengthen the spirit.
Every moment of the day, we are left with a choice to pray or not to pray. The flesh says do not pray and the spirit says pray. We have also the option to sin or not to sin.
The flesh says you have to sin, but the spirit says no. Like Adam and Eve, we have the choices to obey God or not. We choose to obey or not to obey. But the problem is that man does neglect the spirit to gratify the flesh.
Adam chooses not to obey, and that leads to his downfall. When we choose the flesh, we choose corruption, fall from grace, suffering etc. In the spirit, there is life. But like Adam and Eve, we neglect life to choose death. Like Jesus, as the second reading says, we have to put to death the desires of the flesh to be raised to life in the spirit, if we truly want to have a new life.
1. Lent is not only a time of fasting and sacrifice. When many of us hear penance, suffering, fasting etc., they fear that they cannot be able to maintain the Lenten demands. Hence, they continue in their sinful living. Lent as its origin entails, is a time of grace and a period we need to renew ourselves.
We have to make good use of this time to renew our lives with God again. Who knows the graces that are waiting for you at this time? We need this time for our spiritual revival. How many years have we gone away from God? Must we continue to live in disbelief and treat God as if He is nothing? What if we die today? What will God say of our souls? We need to return.
2.In the first reading, we see how God establishes His covenant with Noah and his descendants. In this covenant, God decides to put aside and forever any form of destruction.
He then decides to seek us as His own. He will no longer give up on restoring our closeness with Him. It is what the church does through the Lenten season. But today, we seem not to care and not to give God any little attention. We are the people who have blocked our hearts to Him, and yet He continues to seek for us and show us, love. The church uses this period to lead us back to God. We need to join this moving train.
3. This then is a call to put to death anything that we do that does not give glory. At least in this Lenten period, show God that you love Him. Like Jesus was tempted during His desert experience, the devil will tell us many reasons to lose hope.
He can use your friends, close associates etc. They may tempt you to sin and go back to your way of life. Do not give the devil any single opportunity. By putting the body to death, we raise the Spirit according to the second reading. So, we need to put to death every gratification of the human desires which are against the Spirit.
4. After the desert experience, Jesus came out fully empowered. After the flood, a covenant between God and Noah was established. Therefore, can the Lenten season this year sincerely convert us? Can it make a positive impact in us or will it be a story as as usual? God help us.
May God help us to live up to His expectations. May we stand firm despite the temptations and weaknesses of the human flesh Amen. Happy Sunday and God bless you.