You may expect a homily to focus on the story which is the subject of the Gospel and always features on the first Sunday in Lent - the Temptation of Jesus. But I want to take our reflection elsewhere, to the first reading, not the Gospel.
The first reading at Mass is chosen not at random, but to provide a sort of reflection or anticipation of the Gospel
And this weekend begin with the story of the covenant of God with Noah, and a reminder of the sign of the covenant - the rainbow. How can we understand this story, and what on earth has it got to do with Lent? With the temptation of Christ?
Some people will look at this story and try to find the historical evidence to support it, and some of that is intriguing: in many cultures there are stories of great floods, and some archeologists have even tried to find evidence of the Ark, and the mountain on which it landed.
At the other extreme, there are those who reject the story out of hand. It is just a tale from primitive people, they say, to explain the rainbow, and a way to explain the presence of some beauty in the midst of much danger. Such people would also point out that the destruction of men, women and children alike, cities and civilisations, is very unworthy of a God of love.
For the Church though, neither of these paths are satisfactory. Neither explains why this reading sits alongside the story of the Temptation of Christ in the desert. The search for historical detail will tell us little of use, and the complete rejection of the story fails to take it seriously at all. Even if one view or the other is true, neither tells us what the story actually means.
No, from ancient times, Christian writers have pointed out that it is the symbolism of the story which gives its underlying message.
It is a wonderful story with which to begin Lent, and it casts light both upon the life of Christ, and our living through this holy season.
Here we have an account of sin and salvation, of destruction and compassion, of faith and hope. Here is a tale which speak of water, and a boat which rides on the water - danger and the rescue from danger. Again and again in scripture, water is a symbol both of the threats of evil and the overcoming of it by God. We hear echoes of the salvation of nations through the waters of the Red Sea, the stilling of the storm by Jesus, and the walking on the water. There are reminders of death and resurrection. We are reminded of the journey of baptism through water, and of the promise of eternal life.
And the 40 days on the boat are the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness and they are our 40 days of Lent. The water is an image of sin, forgiveness and resurrection. It is disaster and it is hope.
And it reminds us that Lent is a time of jouneying from sin, a time of patient hope, a time of promise, a time of trial, and a time for redemption.
[Image source: http://tinyurl.com/3793o2x]