February 18, 2024
FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
How Beloved You Are!
Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection begins with his baptism. As the church journeys with Jesus through Lent and toward Easter, we each remember our own baptism, and our life in Christ is renewed.
At the Jordan River, God stops at nothing to declare Jesus beloved. Not even the sky can cloud the message; God tears open the heavens and proclaims it loud and clear. Now each time we dip our hands into the font or trace the sign of the cross over our bodies, we remember this promise anew: “You are a beloved child of God.” Nothing can separate you from God’s love.
Immediately after baptism, Jesus must contend with Satan and wild beasts in the wilderness. Then, before Jesus’ ministry begins, John is arrested. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t give the fact more than a passing mention at this point in the story, but John’s arrest and subsequent death make for a trauma that comes at a crucial moment in Jesus’ life. How was Jesus able to begin his ministry after all he had been through? And how are we, who have experienced temptation, torment, or trauma, to journey on?
The journey is not easy for Jesus, and neither will it be for us. But it’s amazing what is possible when you know just how beloved you are. How long must the voice of God have echoed in Jesus’ mind after that baptism day! Perhaps the angels whispered in his ear as they waited on him: “You are beloved. With you God is well pleased.” Every Sunday, we return to the waters because we can never have too many reminders. When times get tough, we can trust in the promises of God made to us in baptism. This is a flood that saves us. These waters bring new life out of death. God’s love will stop at nothing. Today, remember just how beloved you are!
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At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens have been torn apart, just as at the transfiguration and crucifixion. His baptism is followed by the temptation, which Mark tells in two sentences. Recapitulating ancient Israel, Jesus undergoes testing in the wilderness; the forty days recalls forty years; the wild beasts suggest the transformation of all things at the coming of the messianic age. In Mark the Spirit is mentioned six times (NRSV), here signaling the power of God in both Jesus’ adoption as God’s son and his participation in human suffering.
Many ancient peoples told a flood myth, perhaps an indication of widespread reaction to the receding of the Ice Age. The Genesis narrative (6:9—9:17) combines accounts from J and P, both of which conclude with the divine promise of mercy. The J account (8:20-22) describes a massive burnt sacrifice, which pleases the Lord, but in the P account (9:12-17), God makes the rainbow into a sign of an everlasting covenant. Stories that explain the origin of natural phenomena are called etiological myths.
Many scholars judge that 1 Peter was probably written several decades after Peter’s martyrdom and, invoking Peter’s authority, is addressed generally to Gentiles in the Christian churches. The suffering they are experiencing is laid next to what Christ endured. This passage establishes the Christian connection between Noah’s flood, baptism, and Christ’s resurrection. The oblique reference to “spirits in prison” led to the Eastern idea of the harrowing of hell and to the Western medieval belief in limbo