First Sunday of Lent
“Lord, who throughout these forty days…” The opening line of a traditional Lenten hymn for Eucharistic celebration is sometimes jokingly understood and written as “Lord, who threw out these forty days…” This version of the hymn may be more attractive to those of us who have a limited appreciation of our need to repent. But here we are, once again, at the beginning of our forty days attempting to figure out just what it is we will offer up for the holy season and why we will be offering it up for the holy season. Perhaps we will be able to discover the deeper meaning together.
Our first clue comes from the number “40”. The ears of those of us who believe in the Christian scriptures ought to perk right up when we hear the number “40”. We know immediately that it is not necessarily a time idea but is rather a symbolic number meaning the length of time given for someone to enjoy a deeper, richer, more profound experience of God and God’s love in one’s life. We remember the 40 days of rain in Noah’s day, Elijah’s 40 days in the desert, Israel’s 40 years in the desert, the Lord’s 40 days of fasting, and the 40 days from the Resurrection to the Ascension. All occasioned a deeper experience of God’s presence and love.
We have, then, our 40 days for a deeper bonding with God. Our reading from Genesis teaches us about the foundation of that bonding with the Lord, i.e. the covenant God initiated with His people. In this sacred moment, God chose to unite Himself with humanity with a loving bond which would never be broken again. What a tremendous moment in human history ! God pledges to us never to leave us alone, never to abandon us, never to destroy us over sin again. And it is not because we deserved it. It is because of the enormity of God’s love for us. Perhaps we can say it this way, God cannot help Himself, when He looks upon us, He sees the divine reflection and keeps falling in love with us over and over again.
Our second reading from the First Letter of Peter reminds us that this marvelous covenanted bonding of love between God and us has been finalized once and for all time through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The cross of Jesus became for us the most eloquent expression of God’s determination to be one with us forever. This bond of love, then, becomes the clarion call to us to repent and believe the Good News which we hear in Mark’s gospel passage today. Too often we think repentance means turning away from some terribly large evil in which we may have a hand. For many of us, this is simply not the case. Rather, we are called to move toward a more perfect love of God by searching through our hearts and lives for those small places of darkness, those corners where we hold on to a bit of pride or selfishness, where we consider ourselves better than another person or group of persons, where we hold onto a resentment or lack of forgiveness for a past hurt or betrayal. These are the areas of our hearts and lives which still need God’s redemptive grace. These are the areas which made continuing repentance a necessity for each one of us.
We are called during these “40” days of our holy season of Lent to open ourselves up to a deeper, richer, more profound experience of God and His love in our lives. In doing so, we open ourselves to the continuing repentance we need to grow into the holiness to which the Lord Jesus calls us.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province and also serves on the Provincial Council of Holy Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.