Sunday, 21 February 2021 : First Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we are all celebrating the first Sunday in the season of Lent, in which we are brought to focus our attention to the great love which the Lord has lavished on us, the love and compassionate mercy by which He willingly reached out to us in order to gather us in and to be reconciled with us, so that we will not perish due to our sinful ways but instead receive justification and grace from the Lord.

In our first reading today, we heard from the Book of Genesis the account of the Covenant made by God with Noah and his descendants at the time when the whole earth had been subjected to the Great Flood or the Great Deluge in which the entire world was covered in the great flood after forty days of continuous rain and flooding. All of the sons and daughters of mankind were wiped out save for Noah and his immediate family who were rescued on the great Ark that God had commanded Noah to build earlier on.

God promised Noah and his descendants, who alone were righteous among the children of men, then corrupted greatly by their sins, that He would never destroy the world ever again with the Great Flood the like that Noah and his family had experienced, putting the rainbow in the clouds as a reminder of that promise. Through that act, the Lord also in fact reaffirmed the fundamental truth that God truly loved each and every one of us mankind, no matter how terrible and wicked we may have been. He has given us opportunities, again and again, one after another to repent and to turn back towards Him.

Although the details were scarce in the Book of Genesis, it was documented that the Ark took many decades to be completed, and throughout all those times, it was likely that God had kept on calling on the sons and daughters of man to turn back towards Him, not least through Noah himself and his building of the great Ark. But no one could be turned, and no one wanted to change themselves and way of life, to embrace God and His forgiveness and be saved. They rejected God’s mercy and as a result, by their own conscience choice and actions, received condemnation and destruction.

This means that as St. Peter mentioned in our second reading today, that ‘God, in His great patience, delayed punishing the world, while Noah was building the Ark, in which a small group of eight persons escaped, through water’, God truly has loved us deeply, and He never intended for us to be destroyed. But it was our own sins and our own conscious rejection of God’s forgiveness that dragged many of us and our predecessors down the slippery path towards eternal damnation and suffering.

And the symbolism of the Ark could not have been more powerful and apt given that the Church of God today, is like a great Ark that manoeuvres through the stormy and most difficult challenges of the world, carrying within it, those whom the Lord had called and chosen. Those eight people, the family members of Noah, kept their faith in the Lord and despite the great Flood and all the storm and waves raging all around them, they did not abandon the Ark or give in to their despair. They held on to their faith, and in the end, God rescued them and made a Covenant with them.

St. Peter mentioned in the same passage of his Epistle that there is the type of baptism that has saved the faithful through Jesus Christ, and this refers to the Sacrament of Baptism that countless people had received from the very beginning of the Church, that through the waters of baptism, many had been called and gathered into the Ark of God, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, becoming the members of the Body of Christ, with Christ Himself as the Head and as the Guide and Navigator through the stormy ‘seas’ of this world.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, having established the link between the old Ark of Noah and the new Ark of the Church, in which we are all members and part of, traversing the great darkness of this world, we are all called to keep our faith in the Lord strong and firm, and not to be easily swayed by the many temptations and pressures by which those who want and seek our destruction are certainly trying to drag us into annihilation with them. That is why we have this season of Lent in order to remind us to be faithful and to persevere amidst all these challenges of life that we may encounter throughout our journey as Christians in life.

The Lord Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan in the desert just right after His baptism at the Jordan, as the devil wanted to stop Him from continuing His ministry and the works that the His heavenly Father has entrusted to Him as the One to be the Saviour of the whole world. Satan struck hard with his efforts in trying to tempt the Lord with the desire of His body, for food and sustenance, and to test God for His providence and help, by jumping down the parapet of the Temple, and lastly by tempting Him with all of the wealth and glory of the world if He would only worship him, Satan, the prince of lies and the false guide.

Through this, we are reminded yet again that temptations are real and that we will likely be hard pressed to conform and to submit to the pressures of those temptations and the expectations of others, or of any other things that lure us closer and closer to the downfall to sin. This is why, during this season of Lent, all of us are called to control our desires and restrain our flesh and body, that we may not be so easily swayed to the lies and false promises of the devil, and instead can remain ever faithful to the Lord.

As St. Peter stressed in our second reading today again, that Christ our Lord has suffered and died for our sake, in the atonement for our many sins, we have received this promise of salvation through Him. It is thanks to Him that we now have hope once again, that just as Noah and his family entered into a new world purified and cleansed from the taints of those corruptions, we too are promised the eternal bliss and true happiness of heavenly glory with God. And this we shall gain through our faith in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour alone.

But we also need to realise that our faith must not be stagnant or dead, as St. James said that faith without actions and good works are dead. This means that our faith must also be shown through real and concrete actions, through our daily living and all that we say and do, which truly exemplify our faith. Otherwise, if we profess to have faith in God and yet we do not act in the manner that is faithful to God, will it not then be a scandal of our faith, an embarrassment for our Lord and for His Church?

That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, during this season of Lent, which has just recently begun, we are all called to remember our Christian faith and calling in life, to be genuine followers and disciples of the Lord, so that in all things we are truly faithful, not just in words or as merely a formality. We are all called to follow the Lord with a renewed faith and conviction from now on, and be genuinely Christian in our way of life, in how we interact with one another.

Therefore, are we willing to make this commitment to follow the Lord more wholeheartedly from now on? Are we willing and able to do what is needed for us to be true disciples and followers of the Lord? And we can begin this from ourselves, by rejecting the vanities and excesses of life, adopting a more humble lifestyle, one that is not driven by ego, desire, greed, ambition and others.

And we are also called to be more Christ-like in our actions, and hence, this Lent, we should be more loving and compassionate towards others, in giving not just material or financial help, but even more importantly, our attention, affection, time and company, especially for those who had none to love and care for them. This is our Christian charity and love, through our almsgiving, care and concern for others.

Let us all make this season of Lent meaningful and fruitful, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we may truly appreciate fully God’s love for us by sharing that same love with each other, to remind ourselves that God Himself is dwelling among us, and we, the members of His Church, in His great Ark, the Church, are safe and will always be well provided for, and He will guide us and not abandon us to the darkness of this world.

May the Lord continue to bless us and guide us, and may He strengthen us all during our Lenten journey and observance, so that hopefully we may come to share eventually, the eternal joy and glory with Him just as He has promised us in the Covenant He made with us and renewed through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His sacrifice on the Cross. Let us all look forward to worthily celebrate this love of God at Holy Week and Easter, and make best use of this time of Lent. Amen.