First Sunday of Lent: The Rainbow and the Hound

This year the first readings for the Sundays of Lent present various covenants. The term covenant means a binding agreement between people, or in the case of Sacred Scripture, between God and His people.

Feb 15, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent (Year B)
Readings: Gen 9: 8-15
1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
This year the first readings for the Sundays of Lent present various covenants. The term covenant means a binding agreement between people, or in the case of Sacred Scripture, between God and His people. Today we have the Covenant God made with the people at the time of Noah, the Covenant of the Rainbow. Next Sunday, we’ll hear about the Covenant of Faith made between God and Abraham. Then we’ll come upon the Covenant of the Law made with Moses. We’ll hear about the Covenant of the Heart prophesied by Jeremiah. This will all lead to the Paschal Mystery and the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, the covenant we will renew on our altar in a few minutes.

God’s actions at the time of Noah are centre stage today both in the first reading from Genesis and in the second reading from the First Letter of Peter. In Genesis God saw how wicked mankind had become. Every desire their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, we read in Genesis 6:5. God was going to wipe out all of creation, mankind and all the animals who were scarred with mankind’s sins, his abuse of nature. God was going to destroy them all with a flood, but the life of one just man tempered God’s wrath. That man was Noah. Noah was righteous and blameless. He walked with God. So, as St Peter points out, eight of mankind were saved, Noah, his wife, his three sons and their three wives.

Water destroyed the evil of Noah’s day, but water would become the means of redemption in Jesus’ day. Water took away life at the time of Noah. Water would restore life for those who believe in Jesus Christ. That is why St Peter wrote:

The waters of the flood prefigure the waters of baptism.

And God set a bow on the clouds. The bow was a rainbow. It was a sign that God will never again use a flood to destroy all of the creatures of the earth. The rainbow was a sign that God would never give up on his people.

God will not give up on mankind. Homilists need to remember this. Sometimes Sunday homilies become a catalogue of the evils of the world. Some priests and deacons pound people with one horrible situation after another to demonstrate the presence of sin in the world. People don’t need to come to Church to hear bad news. They can always turn on BBC, or CNN if that form of insanity is more to their taste.

People don’t come to Church to hear the bad news. Jesus did not send his disciples out to tell the world the bad news.

He sent his disciples out to proclaim the Good News. The Good News, the Gospel, is that God has rescued and is rescuing His people from the clutches of evil. The Good News is that everyone who accepts the baptism of Jesus Christ, and accepting means fulfilling the responsibilities of Christian life; everyone who accepts Jesus Christ will be part of the defeat of evil in the world and will share in the victory of Christ in heaven. The Good News is that all the negativity that surrounds us and sometimes appears to overwhelm us, all this negativity is only part of the total reality of God’s creation.

The truth is the world is good because God created it, and He is Good. The truth is people are good because people are made in the image and likeness of God, and He is Good. The truth is that you and I are good because we are sons and daughters of God. And yes, good people can choose to become evil people, but that is their choice. Even the most horrible person to ever live could still reject evil and once more become a good person. The world is not bad. The world is not evil.

The rainbow. The rainbow proclaims that God sees the good that is in the world.

He will not give up on mankind in general. Nor will He give up on us as individuals. Over a hundred years ago the poet Francis Thompson wrote about God’s continual pursuit of him even as he tried his best to avoid God. He called his poem, The Hound of Heaven: Once a hound has a scent, he will not quit the chase. God has our scent. So Thompson wrote:

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet — ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.

The poem goes on to present the many ways that the poet tried to hide from God in the things of the world. It ends with these consoling words from God:

Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
And there is even an explanation for the poet’s frustration in life:
Thou dravest love from me, who dravest Me.”

That last line is best understood as: You (the hunted) drove love away from yourself because you have driven my love away.

We need to savour the image of God as the Hound of Heaven. He refuses to give up on us, any of us. No matter what our sins, no matter where we try to hide from him, His pursuit is relentless.

He refuses to give up on us. What right do any of us have to give up on ourselves? Are we suffering from an addiction that we keep falling back into? We have to keep fighting it. We can’t give up on ourselves. Have we done some thing or things that we still cannot believe we did? Do we let hatred determine our choices? And then we feel rotten. Do we want to throw in the towel and say, “I’m just not any good. I belong with evil people.” How dare we say that about someone for whom Jesus Christ died?

How dare we say that about ourselves? God will not give up on us.

Look at the rainbow. Picture it in your mind. It is beautiful. It is awe-inspiring. It is a sign of God’s love and God’s mercy.

The rainbow is a covenant between God and us. He will never give up on us, any of us. Try to remember this the next time you see a rainbow: God will never give up on me.

The word ‘Lent‘ is derived from a Teutonic word meaning ‘Spring’. Lent is the time for a new beginning. The rainbow is there. The Hound of Heaven is real. God’s love is pursuing us.

May we have the determination to begin again. May we have the courage to allow His mercy into our lives. -- By Msgr Joseph A Pellegrino

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