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What does Noah’s Ark have to do with Lent?

March 2, 2012

Here’s my homily for the 1st Sunday in Lent.

Genesis 9:8-15              1 Peter 3:18-22            Mark 1:12-15

[You can listen at http://www.deaconphilip.podbean.com]

This afternoon five people from this Parish will be taking part in a special service Saint Chad’s Cathedral. Archbishop Bernard will be meeting them as their spiritual leader, and they will officially enrol their names as part of their journey towards entering into full communion with the Catholic Church on the 7th of April, Holy Saturday. On that day, at the Easter Vigil, they will be here in this church with their families to be baptised, to be confirmed and to receive Holy Communion for the first time.

For those of us who are following the ‘Walk with Me’ daily Lenten thoughts, you will know that Archbishop Bernard is teaching us more about baptism. One of the things he wants us to recognise is how our baptism unites us across the Diocese.

One way we can unite together is to pray for each other, to pray to strengthen each other’s faith. And perhaps you could pray particularly for our five candidates who want to become Catholics. In this way we will all be travelling with them together on a Lenten journey over the next few weeks, a journey that will bring us to the great celebration of the Triduum, the three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Make a note now in your diary to try and make sure you’ll be in church on each of these days – because Holy Mother Church wants us to be there through this extraordinary three-day highlight of the Christian year. And a vitally important part of the three days is on Holy Saturday, when, after our five new members have been received into the Church, we all, ALL of us, renew our baptismal vows to reinvigorate our lives dedicated to worshipping and serving God, praying for the Holy Spirit to be once again released into our lives.

Preparation for the new life offered by Easter is the purpose of Lent.

In the first reading, the story of Noah, God enters into a covenant with Noah and his descendants – it’s a new start for them, a new relationship. God says he will never allow a flood to destroy so much life in that way again. And he says that the permanent reminder of his covenant with Noah will be the rainbow. We know from our knowledge of physics that a rainbow is the result of bright light shining through water droplets to create a giant prism, producing an amazingly beautiful effect.

Through the symbol of the rainbow, the vicious waters of the Flood are transformed from something frightening, something that brings death and destruction, into something that is beautiful and peaceful, something which we see if we’re in the right place at the right time and are looking heavenwards. (And “being in the right place, at the right time, looking heavenwards” is another way of me saying to you ‘make sure you come to Church every Sunday like good Catholics should, not just when you feel like it!)

In today’s second reading Saint Peter is explaining the nature of our New Covenant with God that comes through Jesus Christ. And he mentions Noah and his ark.

We need to remind ourselves and learn from how the earliest Christians knew and understood Noah’s Ark. The ark saved humanity from eternal destruction by passing Noah and his family safely through the flood water, thereby making possible a new start to life on earth.

Thanks to the example and ultimate sacrifice of Our Lord we too are able to enter into a renewed relationship with God, through the same two things that produce the rainbow – water and light. But this time they are the waters of baptism and the light of Christ. Baptism, through water, brings us salvation – we are saved eternally by passing through the waters of baptism AND THEN REMAINING SAFE INSIDE THE ARK. That is why ‘Peter’s barque’ (or boat) is one of the earliest symbols the first Christians used to represent the Catholic Church. It’s an important point. It’s no good being baptised then jumping ship, not being an active, practising member safe who is safe inside the Church. Contrary to what you might think, Noah didn’t get straight out of the ark after forty days or after the dove returned with the olive leaf. No, he remained on board for much longer. (Check it out for yourselves, in Genesis Chapter 9, if you like.)

So after baptism, as we journey through the choppy waters of daily life, we need to be getting ready for the moment when the time is right to disembark from Peter’s barque – preparing for the time when we die and hope to return to God in heaven. That means remaining a practising Catholic for the rest of our lives.

We Catholics spend the 40 days of Lent preparing together to make the right choices in our lives. During Lent we copy Our Lord, who was Himself tempted for 40 days and nights. We too are tested and tempted in many ways on life’s journey, and sadly, unlike Jesus, we often succumb to the temptation and end up sinning. That is why, during Lent, we concentrate on building up our spiritual weapons to resist temptation.

Here’s a very trivial example from my own, sad life of what this can mean in practice.

I’ve been ‘home alone’ all this week. Last Monday I cooked a package of sausages. I had two. On Tuesday I was out all day, but on Ash Wednesday,  oh how I yearned to eat another couple of sausages. Talk about temptation. They sat in the fridge laughing at me! “Eat me, I’ll be going off”, they were saying. But I resisted. I ate two more on Thursday. Then on Friday the temptation was there again – “Forget the rules – eat the sausages you fool!” No, I held firm. The last two went on Saturday lunchtime.

Look, if we can train ourselves to give up something we are allowed, it obviously makes us get better at resisting temptation towards things that are forbidden to us. That’s why we do things like fasting and abstinence from meat during Lent.

Our purpose from now until Easter is to strengthen ourselves spiritually, in living out together, in solidarity with one another, our new, Christian, lives, squeezing out our bad old ways of giving in to temptation and sinning.

Let’s pray for each other, and especially for those getting on board Peter’s barque at Easter, that the Holy Spirit of God will be with us to guide us on our way, so that together we are all strengthened in our efforts to continue the Church’s work of building the kingdom of God on earth.

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