1st Sunday in Lent; Year B
1 Peter 3:18-22
Why, Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison.
Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe. That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.
The season of Lent is a penitential season – a time for reflection and rectification. A time where we are asked to undertake prayer, fast and almsgiving in a special and particular way. I think that the 2nd Readings from this Sunday until Easter Sunday invite us to consider are the 7 Sacraments we receive in the Church: Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, The Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick. The passage from the first letter of St. Peter we read this Sunday starts us on thus journey: That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now.
All authentically Christian churches acknowledge Baptism as a sacrament. We all see it as the ‘doorway’ to the faith. But why we understand it as such is difficult at times to understand. How can some water be some important; why is baptism so necessary? The easy answer is “because Jesus told us it was important” – but the deeper, more full answer, can be found across the Library of books in the Bible.
When we are told in Genesis that God sent the deluge across the face of the Earth – what was it’s purpose? From the passage, the conclusion of which we hear in this Sunday’s First Reading, it is clear the purpose was to renew the face and inhabitant of Earth. Water, then is cleansing, it renews, it washes away. It restores a previous perfect state – removing what had happened after ‘The Fall’ and the wickedness that lead from it.
If something is a ‘type’ it is a metaphor or a demonstration of something else – so Peter tells us that the Flood is a ‘type’ of our Baptism – what does that mean for us? It means that we can think about our Baptism in the same way – it is cleansing, it renews, it washes away. But it is personal, not global, event. It cleanses you. It renews you. It is not a “whole world” event – but a personal entering into relationship, with God and his Church.
The purpose of Lent is to reflect upon ourselves and out relationship with God. It seems perfect, then, to set out on our Lenten journey by thinking about how that relationship started – our Baptism.