First Sunday of Lent
1) Gn 9:8-15
2) 1 Pt 3:18-22
Gospel: Mk 1:12-15
The majestic frescoes of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel tell the biblical story of salvation history in visual form in over 5,000 square feet of stunning fresco art.
Awe-inspiring in scale, beauty and design, the celebrated frescoes bring to life some 300 biblical figures, from the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis and the Great Flood with Noah and his ark to the Last Judgment fresco of Christ’s return at the end of time.
Unparalleled in grandeur and beauty, the Sistine Chapel frescoes are among the world’s most treasured works of art.
At the heart of the fresco narratives, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is the covenant that God makes with creation, first offered in Genesis and then renewed through each book of the Bible. Every scene in the Sistine Chapel opens to another chapter in the unfolding story of the covenant between God and humanity.
We see in visual form that God not only creates the world with Adam and Eve as the crown of creation but desires to be in a covenant relationship, that is, a relationship of mutual love, trust and fidelity with his creatures created in and for love. This divine-human covenant is the gift of faith at the heart of the Judeo-Christian worldview!
In the first reading, God establishes a covenant with Noah after a raging flood destroys much of the known world. Then God paints a rainbow in the sky as a visual sign of a new beginning offered to Noah and the living creatures in the ark with him. This new beginning is the invitation that God offers again and again in the face of humanity’s rejection of the divine offer of friendship.
Lent is God’s ongoing offering of a new beginning to you and me in our day and time. Once again, we are invited to renew and to live in covenant relationship with God who is present in word and in sacrament and who desires to be active in our lives.
The psalmist teaches us how to respond to the divine invitation to begin anew in Lent. “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant” is the prayer of the psalmist as he recognizes both his sinfulness and the healing divine mercy that restores to new life.
When Jesus retreats to the desert for 40 days he invites us to join him in the battle of prayer and fasting. The desert is the place where Jesus is prepared for his mission to suffer “for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead (us) to God,” as the First Letter to Peter reminds us.
Our Lenten observances are daily paths to grow in the life of grace we received at baptism when we were first made new creations in Jesus Christ. Now we join the figures of salvation history as sons and daughters who live in covenant with God.
As the world continues to struggle through a pandemic, this Lent is a graced time to bring to God our fears, anxieties and weaknesses in the confident hope we will receive an abundance of mercy as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How will you grow in faith this Lenten season?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.