Every ancient civilization records a great flood occurring in their distant past.  We now know it was the result of the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago.  You can imagine the great destruction caused by the receding glaciers and the floods that ensued as they melted.  As you probably know, the Great Lakes were carved out and filled in at this time.  It was just another moment in the evolution of our planet but, like many other ancient civilizations, Israel saw a divine lesson in this natural phenomenon.  It is presented in the story of Noah and his ark; we’re all familiar with it.  According to this story, which is part of the divine revelation of the Bible, humanity had become so depraved that, as we read in chapter six of the Book of Genesis, “no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil.”  And so, God decided to destroy the earth and all humanity except Noah and his family, of whom God said, “you alone in this age have I found to be truly just.” 

We all know how the story unfolds.  After Noah built the ark and led his family, along with pairs of animals, into the ark, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights so that the entire earth was covered.  Slowly, the waters receded and Noah and his family were able to settle on the land.  As they did so, God established a covenant with them; that’s where today’s first reading picks up.  It is a very important moment in God’s re-establishing a relationship with humanity.  Ever since Adam and Eve had sinned by trying to become like God by partaking of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, we had been estranged from God.  Now, God, out of the abundance of his love and care for humanity – whom he had made in his image and likeness – establishes a covenant with us. 

This is the first of four times that Sacred Scripture records God making a covenant with humanity.  The other three are when he made a covenant with Abraham, then with the people Israel at Mount Sinai and finally through his son, Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper.  In all of these covenants, God promises that he will care for us.  And all he asks of us is to be faithful to him and to love him above all things.

This teaching about God’s covenant will be part of the Sunday readings for the next several weeks, culminating in the establishment of the new and everlasting covenant at the Last Supper, ratified by our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross so, as we begin in earnest our observance of Lent on this, the first Sunday of Lent, I invite you to reflect on it with me for a few moments. 

As you may know, the idea of a covenant is not unique to the Bible.  It was developed in the ancient Near East as a way for tribes and clans to live in peace with each other.  As they wandered around as nomads searching for food and water for themselves and their flocks, they established covenants with relatives so that they would not fight each other when they happened upon each other in their wanderings.

God used this practice among the people to demonstrate his care for his people.  After all, he had chosen Israel to be his special people – his beloved sons and daughters – and he wanted them to know that he would care for them.  At the same time, he wanted them to enter into this covenant, being faithful to him and his commands.  Beginning with today’s account of God’s covenant with Noah and his family, the Bible can be read as the story of humanity continually abandoning this covenant and God continually calling us back to himself.

And, just as the Bible can be read in this way, so each of us can, if we are honest with ourselves, recognize that we, too, fall to temptation and continually stray from God.  And so, we hear of Jesus in the desert today, tempted as we are but not falling into temptation.  We then hear him call us to repent and believe in the gospel.  He calls us to turn away from our sinful ways and turn toward God.  We hear the gospel – the good news – that God is relentless in his love for us and always faithful to his covenant.  Through Jesus, who will establish the new and everlasting covenant through his unfailing obedience to his Father – even to the point of dying on the cross – we prepare for the time when we will share in the heavenly banquet God has prepared for all of us; that heavenly communion which we all long for but have been deprived of since Adam and Eve chose to eat the one fruit that the devil – that master tempter – offered them rather than the abundance of good food that God had provided them. 

And so, we listen carefully to our Lord’s proclamation in today’s Gospel:  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”  There is no better time than now to allow God’s love to take hold of our hearts.  No matter how close we are to God now, we can always get closer.  And, if we are aware of ways in which we have wandered from God, we need to listen to our Lord when he calls us to repent, that is, turn around and turn back to God.  God wants us for himself and he will take care of all of our needs.  We need only to be faithful to him and to love him above all things.  That’s all he requires in his covenant with us.  Let’s make that our resolution as we begin this sacred Lenten season.