Storms swept across the United States this week with destructuve wrath. The metaphorical storm that rages found itself realized in the physical losses and catastrophic destruction. Hopes for a sense of unity have not yet found hearts open and willing; even in the midst of great wanting, the political bickering and social divergences have reigned. And yet, the first Sunday of Lent has found us as we labor with our own angry frustrations, the pandemic and vaccinations, uncertainities and fears. It is time to lay down the armor of anger, the distractions of social media, the attitudes of condescension and self-righteous certainty. It is time to listen.
Sheer delight resides in the idea that civilization can somehow be saved by the whimsical construction of an ark. Animals in magical pairs preserve the living environment, and somehow a mere mortal, Noah, makes it all happen. The first reading is from Genesis, and it is a profound reminder of the risks and joys of being human. The essence of the story is not the construction of the ark itself or even the machinations that Noah went through. If you really listen, you can hear that it is really all about God, the aftermath of the flood, and the promise of a covenant. Instead, it is a covenant offered by God with a sign, the rainbow, of that undying commitment to what has been created. Somehow, the storms subside, and the fidelity of sunrise remains.
There are echoes of that in the second reading from 1 Peter. The flood is interpreted as prefiguring Baptism. But here again, listening opens new doors. Baptism is redefined; it is not about washed clean. Instead, it is about asking God for a clear conscience. Conscience is the gift, the opportunity, to wrestle with the challenges every human being faces every day. It is what enables us to balance the idea of individual identity and the realities of collective identity. It is the place where goodness is empowered and selfishness is recognized and named. Conscience is what enables us to challenge narcissim and fully engage in something greater than self. it is there if we choose to use it, develop it, and share it.
Finally, there is the Gospel of this first Sunday of Lent 2021. There is Jesus, in the midst of the desert, tempted by Satan, fully and gloriously human. But listening to it again tells so much. Jesus survived that hazardous time, the trial and the tribulation. He was cared for by the angels and when he returns, he proclaims that the Kingdom is at hand. Believe in the Gospel! Believe in the Good News.
Listening goes far beyond the hearing of words. Listening allows for the possiblity of learning, of changing, of becoming more than what we are now. But in a world filled with sounds of all sorts, daring to really listen requires more than swiping to a site. It is about allowing the words to find a home within, a cadence that can cultivate conscience and a truth that transcends the terrain of tumult. Lent itself is an invitation to that. There are thousands of reasons to turn away, to stop listening and even hearing, to deny and to denigrate. But even those choices will not compromise the covenant of Noah, permute the promise of Peter or silence the reality of the Spirit.
Lent is the season where it all rests in our hands, our hearts….if only we listen.