The First Sunday in Lent
Gen. 9:8-17 • Ps. 25:1-9
1 Peter 3:18-22 • Mark 1:9-15
Let not the devil defeat you; let Christ crush his miserable head. If God is for us, who can be against us? Throw open the door of your heart and let Christ come in to break the bread of his presence and pour out his sacrificial potion; let him say the irrevocable word whose vestiges are upon the worn pages of prophets, the litigation of laws, the rise and fall of kingdoms, the evenings and mornings of events and wonders. The victory is final and the work complete.
How do we know? In the height of heaven and reaching to our humble home, an arc of colored light leads the contemplative eye over space and time. “Never again will I destroy all flesh by a deluge of water,” says the living God. “My bow will appear in the heavens and I will remember my eternal contract” (Gen. 9:15,16). This peace, this security, grounded in the Living Christ, is now the center of our being. Not I, but Christ who lives.
With an open heart, we open another door, the one which leads into the world. The wind rushes, waters rage and foam, a riot of noise is waiting, not only from turbulent towns and blaring cities, but even in places of solitary wonder, pristine beauty, and brutal aseity. The world is waiting. How, in the perfect freedom of Christ, are we free to make our way in the world?
The bow in the heavens, the sign of our security, will, nonetheless, recall a frightful storm. Victory is secure but the battle is hardly over. Thus, at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is said to be driven by the Spirit into the wilderness where the devil prepares a trial. The devil does not drive him but the Spirit, for this trial is essential to Jesus’ identity and mission. In the desert and in every moment of his ministry Jesus is mortified in flesh, made alive in the Spirit (1 Peter). Temptations dance before his eyes, demons dare to name him. We know who you are! Jesus persists in absolute fidelity, and the angels minister to him. The Son of righteousness and the Angel of darkness will meet again.
In the decisive moment of the cross Jesus defeats death and the devil, a victory whose reach is universal. As the old theologians say, “If he did not assume it, he did not save it.” He assumed — took onto himself — what we are so that we might become what he is. The enigmatic mention, in the Epistle of First Peter, of Christ’s descent among the dead requires our slow and careful attention. For this theme, though a tangential point in Scripture, is taken up in both the Christian East and West, imposing a deep influence upon icons, piety, and theology. What was Jesus doing between his death and resurrection? A story fills this vacuum, one whose theological truth, if not its narrative details, we may unfailingly affirm. Did not God save a righteous family in the story of Noah and the Ark? Was not God saving all along? Thus there must be salvation for those trapped in the shadow of death prior to Jesus’ arrival. If Jesus does not reach everyone, he does not reach anyone. Thus he descends to the dead, breaks the two crossed leaves of hell’s doors, and raises Adam and Eve and their descendants. Whosoever will, let him come!
Baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ, vested for storm and battle. But offer the world no show of violence. Let Christ pull you from hell.
Look It Up
Read 1 Peter 3:19. In hell? Christ breaks the gate.
Think About It
On the hard wood of the cross, he is reaching for you.