A Covenant of Love
A Covenant of Love

A Covenant of Love

First Sunday of Lent. Fr Dominic White encourages us to follow the rainbow this Lent.

Lent didn’t get off to an easy start, did it? I mean, why did Ash Wednesday have to fall on St Valentine’s Day? Some friends of mine, a young married couple, decided on a vigil of romantic pancakes the night before, followed by a simpler celebration on the day itself.

But perhaps this is providential. Perhaps, this year, God is reminding us that actually Lent is about love. And for love to be real and to last, the many different kinds of love in our lives need to fed by that common source, God’s love. ‘God so loved the world that He sent His only Son’ (John 3:16).

Love is wonderful and fulfils us and we can’t live without it. Love is difficult because we live in a fallen world. Most of our problems, failings and indeed sins will be around relationships, whether with God, with others, with nature, with material things, and indeed, our relationships with ourselves. For all our real gifts, goodness and good intentions, too often love goes wrong. If we look back at the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 we see that the Fall is a breakdown in relationships: Adam and Eve fall out with each other, with God, with creation (the ground is cursed, growing food will be hard and painful), and with themselves (they hide). The Flood recalled in today’s First Reading, a real event remembered in the myths and epics of many cultures all over the world, is the logical outcome of broken relationship: total destruction.

Yet, as always with God, it’s not the end of the story. God makes a covenant with humankind, that is, a new relationship. In the ancient world, conquering kings made a covenant with the people they had conquered: you obey me, I’ll protect you. God’s covenant is completely different, though. It is a covenant of love. We are no longer to be subjects – literally, people thrown underneath, fallen people. Through successive covenants, such as with Abraham and Moses, God will raise His people higher and higher, into closer and closer relationship with Him, until through His Son God would restore us to share in His very own life: to be friends with Him, that is – and this is extraordinary – He would restore us to equality with Him, higher even than we were before the Fall. The waters of the Flood would no longer be destructive, but they would be the waters of baptism. There must be a death – a death to sin, a death of the false self, the false me that cannot relate to myself, let alone to others. But this is for the sake of a rising to new life, to be alive in God because I have allowed God to be alive in me.

How can this happen? The clue is perhaps in the sign that God gives Noah. A rainbow is seen when rain and sunshine are combined: sorrow and joy. No day will have one of these to the complete exclusion of the other. And all the more, no real love exists without both joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy. Lent will be a battle, the way of the Cross – as the challenges in every relationship are a battle, and sometimes the great temptation can be just to withdraw. As we fast from good things in order to be freer to focus on prayer and almsgiving (whether we give in money, time, or other gifts), we will experience a battle. We will be tempted to give up on our resolutions. That’s unavoidable. We may be tempted to sin. We may be surprised and even shocked by the temptations that come our way.  Don’t even think of doing it on your own: perhaps that’s the greatest temptation of all. Lent is not about impressing God. It’s about what happens when we let in God’s grace, God’s loving gift which empowers us to do what we must do but cannot do on our own strength. We may even feel we’ve failed, but that will be only the apparent failure of Jesus’ death on the Cross, mediating God’s grace. And in accepting grace we are restored to relationship with God, drawn deeper into His love.

Let’s remember too that temptation is not a sin – the proof being that Jesus Himself was tempted. Because the devil will attack us where we’re weakest, not strongest (the devil is lazy), this will show us where healing is needed. Just as we need Confession for sins, for recurrent temptation we may need to seek spiritual accompaniment, counselling, and indeed therapy, helping us to the ‘thinking differently’ which is part of repentance and sets us free. All good. The rainbow’s light in the rain, beautiful pointing us towards Easter, the sun of Resurrection, to our resurrection, restored to right relationship, with God, with others, with nature, with all good things, and yes, with ourselves.

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 | 1 Peter 3:18-22 | Mark 1:12-15

Image: Allen Watkin, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0 DEED

Fr Dominic White is Prior of the Priory of St Dominic, London. He is Acting Director of Research at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, the founder of the Cosmos dance project, and patron of Eliot Smith Dance Company.

Comments (2)

  • Margaret Martin

    This is such a helpful insight, thank you!

  • Fr. Joy Joseph

    Excellent. Thank you.
    Fr. Joseph


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