The first Sunday of Lent begins on a reassuring note this year as we hear about God’s covenant of mercy and peace with all of creation, following the destruction brought by the flood and marked by the sign of a rainbow. Every time I see a rainbow I think of this passage and of God’s fidelity to his creation and to us, who are the crown of creation.
To be sure, there is an obvious connection between the forty days of the flood recounted in Genesis, the forty years of Israel’s desert sojourn, and the forty days of Jesus’ temptation in the desert—the last of which was in turn the inspiration for the forty days of our Lenten journey. But since the time when the Lectionary for mass was revised following the Second Vatican Council we have heard this excerpt from Genesis at the beginning of Lent for one critically important reason: because it speaks of God’s restoration of hope to mankind and indeed all of creation after the flood, an event which is a “type” or symbolic representation of baptism.
A type is really more than a symbol, it is a person or event or object which has real meaning and value itself, yet which also points forward to someone or something which is of greater significance. In his Letter to the Romans Saint Paul actually uses the word “type”—it is the same in Greek and English—when he refers to Christ, writing of “…Adam, who is a type of the one to come” (Rom 5:14).
That the first reading provides us with a “type” of baptism through its colorful language about Noah is deeply meaningful for all Christians today as we have just begun our observance of Lent, a time devoted to repentance and a return to our baptismal purity. Even more so, this baptismal imagery is important because today the Church the world over marks the beginning of the third stage of the preparation of catechumens for initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil, an initiation of which baptism is the primordial moment.
To commemorate this key moment in the faith life of the entire Church and her individual members dioceses all over the world will celebrate the Rite of Election today. With this in mind, and turning back to the readings for mass, in the New Testament epistle from First Peter we hear the author directly say that baptism was foreshadowed by Noah and the flood: “He also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now” (1 Pet 3:19-21).
When the epistle speaks of “baptism, which saves you now” it is addressing both the Christian believers who first read and heard this epistle and us as well. The very same sacrament that delivered new life in the Lord to the earliest Christians does the same for us today, and the same inner conversion that led them to the waters of baptism must sustain us in our day, even if we were baptized many years ago.
The gospel reading today also reminds us of this call to conversion as a keynote of Lenten observance, with Christ himself commanding us to “repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). May Lent be a season of renewal and peace for all who trust in the Lord, those already washed in the waters of baptism and those preparing for that great moment—each one of us rejoicing with the Psalmist: “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant” (Ps 25:10).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.