Genesis 9: 8-15; IPeter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15
It would be hard for any of us to imagine what the families of the 17 killed in Parkland, FL are going through, or for that matter, any that have been killed in such horrific ways. How on earth do you return to some semblance of normalcy and begin to pull your life back together again when faced with such trauma? It would seem impossible because everything you know as normal is no more. Everything that you knew of life is now clouded by events that took just seconds and minutes to unfold and you can never go back. Time seems to be clocked now through that experience and all you can really do is push forward. Push forward. There’s not much else one can do and hopefully over time begin to rebuild a new sense of normal and a life that now stands in the shadows of such events.
I would think, though, that that’s what Noah experiences himself. He has now witnessed the destruction of the earth and most of humanity, wiped off the face of the earth. The natural inclination would be to hunker down inside the ark and stay where he was, wallowing in his own sense of grief and loss and never learning to trust again. It could have been that in that moment, life comes to a standstill and Noah gives into fear and the sense of loss, ravaged by the hostile flood waters that have consumed the earth. But Noah wrestles with it and looks for something beyond the destruction and the trauma faced by humanity. He simply looks for some kind of sign that all will be well and that this God who has pledged commitment and love upon humanity and the earth will once again see them through the hostile waters into a new sense of life. That doesn’t mean that they forget what has happened. It’s nearly impossible to forget. However, to make peace with the events and somehow reconcile with a humanity that has gone astray in order to push forward. That sign for Noah comes in the form of a rainbow. How many have lost people and simply wanted a sign reminding us that things are ok? Noah saw that rainbow and was reminded of the everlasting covenant that God has made not just with Israel but will all humanity. It seems, even for Noah, that the only way through the hostile waters or the arid desert as Jesus faces is to go through it, often clinging to what was but over time learning to let go, surrender, trust, and deepen the faith in that covenant that God remains.
Like Jesus, the hostile waters or the arid desert are often not of our choosing. We often don’t get to decide what life throws at us or what the world throws at us. None of the people or Parkland chose to enter into it. Mark’s Gospel tells us today that Jesus is literally thrust into the desert. Mindful that just prior to this is his baptism and his identity is revealed. From that moment forward it will be challenged. As Mark tells us, he will have to confront the wild beasts that thrive in the midst of the desert. However, it’s not just the wild beasts out there that we learn to confront in our lives. More often than not it’s the wild beasts that live within us that have a way of taking hold of our hearts and lives. The worst part is, it’s the wild beasts that we tend to believe. It’s the wild beasts of negativity and the voices that drag us down even deeper into despair that become so believable or are just easier to give into over time. Yet, like Noah, there is only one way through and that’s pushing through the experience and allowing it to transform us. It is so often the very place where we learn to trust and find faith in God because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway! It’s literally all we have, faith and trust.
There had to come a time when Noah stepped off that ark in order to begin life anew. He had to pass through the hostile waters, unbeknownst to himself, just as we pass through the waters of baptism. It’s where we learn to trust and put our faith in this God who has promised life from the very beginning of time and until we pass over from this life. Our second reading from Peter today tells us of that pledge that God has made, not as a removal of dirt from our body but rather an interior change of heart and to begin our life anew. Despite the hostilities of the world and our ongoing obsession with violence, witnessing such tragedies as we have this week and the persistent tragedy we see in this city, God still promises life. Like Noah, it takes a first step off the ark into the ruins in order begin the process of rebuilding life but now through the lens of faith.
As we begin this season of Lent, we begin with that very promise and pledge from God about the eternal life that is given to each of us at this very moment. We mustn’t find ourselves locked up inside the ark, trying to keep ourselves safe and secure through our illusions. We mustn’t try to dance around the desert to avoid the aridness and the insecurity that we face in meeting the wild beasts. More often than not and ready or not, the hostile waters and the arid desert will be thrust upon us and then the choice is ours as to how we proceed. This season reminds us of the promise of passing through and pushing through the darkest moments of our lives, when we find ourselves unsure and questioning, that somehow life is assured and God will continue to literally pull us through in order to experience that fullness of life. None of us can go back to what was before these moments. All any of us can do, and the grace we pray for this Lent, is to trust and find faith in the promise once given and yet unfolding in a God who remains faithful to humanity and all living things.