Hope and Vulnerability: A Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, 2024

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Hope and Vulnerability: A Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, 2024

Genesis 9:8-15

Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

In our Community we have been considering the virtue of hope, both natural hope and Christian hope. Natural hope rests within our capacity as thinking creatures and inspires us to create pathways to a desired reality, guided by a vision of what we wish to create and how we can accomplish it.  It is based on reality.  This is the way most of the world gets their work done.

But Christian hope goes deeper.  It is stronger than reason and strategy.  It brings hope when there is no rational hope, because it rests not on happy outcomes but on the abiding presence of God in our spirit and in our community.  Our hope doesn’t end when the world fails us, because it rests on something beyond this world, on the spirit of God.

The readings for the First Sunday of Lent also begin with Hope.  A great flood devastates the earth, but the story of Noah doesn’t end with destruction but with a new covenant between God and humanity and all of Creation.  It is the promise that God will not allow this world to be destroyed.  The sign of that covenant is the rainbow that comes when storms end and hope is restored.

Psalm 25 repeats this hope that God will save us from ourselves.  The refrain is, “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.”  This isn’t a perfect world where our faith will never be tested.  But God promises to always be at our side, to see us through the stormy times that we bring down on ourselves.

Now we look at the second reading from the First Letter of Peter.  In the waters of Baptism, we re-live the Biblical purification of creation through flood.  We come out of the water with our sins washed away and our spirit made stronger by hope in God.  As Peter writes, it is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  It is a new beginning.  God know we are frail people who fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and – well, you get the idea.  The important thing is that God gives us the grace to turn back to God, stand up again, and move forward.  This is Christian hope that does not depend on our being perfect – we are not; nor on superhuman strength – we will be weak throughout our life; nor on all the possibilities falling in our favor – they won’t.  Our hope rests on Christ’s promise at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “I am with you always, to the end.”

In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus withdraws into the desert to be alone with God.  The other Gospels enlarge on and dramatize this story of vulnerability and temptation, but for Mark it is enough to say that he was tempted but that the spirit of God ministered to him, and then he began to proclaim the good news: that we do not need to be slaves to our weaknesses, for we  are sons and daughters of God.

A few weeks ago, our chaplain Fr. Corbin Eddy talked about this passage in his sermon, and pointed out that for Mark the demonic voices come later in the story, from the mouths of those who refuse to listen to Jesus.  We see every day how demons speak through humans.  They whisper through each of us in our worst moments.  They speak through me when I lose my temper.  When I prejudge someone based on past experiences.  When I fail to listen fully and openly.  When I refuse to listen to new ideas, to consider different ways of living out our Benedictine charism.  When I lose hope.  When I spread gossip.  When I murmur – for St. Benedict, the sin that tears apart Community, that breaks down its walls, and lets the cold of outer space blow through us, putting out our light.

The greatest fear of humanity is that we are alone and unfriended. A strong, compassionate, loving community is proof that we are not alone, that we belong to a circle of friends with God at its center. When we silence the demonic voices whispering in our hearts, we know that God has always been and will always be – our friend.  And this is why we hope.

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“And let them first pray together, that so they may associate in peace.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict