Homily from the 1st Sunday of Lent - Year B
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"Everybody felt it; a moment of eerie silence, a low rumble and then the ground began to shake. Buildings swayed and buckled, the collapsed like houses of cards. Less than four minutes later, over thirty thousand were dead from a magnitude 8.2 earthquake that rocked and nearly flattened Armenia in 1989.
In the muddled chaos, a distressed father bolted through the winding streets leading to the school where his son had gone earlier that morning. The man couldn’t stop thinking about the promise he’d given his son many times: “No matter what happens, Armand, I’ll always be there.”
He reached the site where the school had been, but saw only a piles of rubble. He just stood there at first, fighting back tears, and then took off, stumbling over debris, toward the east corner where he knew his son’s classroom had been. With nothing but his bare hands, he started to dig.
He was desperately pulling up bricks and pieces of wall-plaster, while others stood by watching in forlorn disbelief. He heard someone growl, “Forget it, mister. They’re all dead.” He looked up flustered and replied, “You can grumble, or you can help me lift these bricks.” Only a few pitched in, and most of them gave up once their muscles began to ache. But the man couldn’t stop thinking about his son.
He kept digging and digging - for hours... twelve hours... eighteen hours... twenty-four hours... thirty-six hours... Finally, into the thirty-eighth hour, he heard a muffled groan from under a piece of wallboard. He seized the board, pulled it back and cried, “ARMAND!” From the darkness came a slight shaking voice, “Papa...!?”
Other weak voices began calling out, as the young survivors stirred beneath the still uncleared rubble. Gasps and shouts of bewildered relief came from the few onlookers and parents who remained. They found fourteen of the thirty-three students still alive.
When Armand finally emerged, he tried to help dig, until all his surviving classmates were out. Everybody standing there heard him as he turned to his friends and said, “See, I told you my father wouldn’t forget us.”
We have a Father in Heaven who always keeps His promises. In today’s first reading, we hear the Bible’s codeword for His promises: “covenant.”
Throughout history, our Father has made promises through covenants with his people. A covenant is the greatest and most sacred kind of promise someone can make. We’re all familiar with another kind of promise called a “contract.” A contract is what two people agree to for the exchange of rights and/or goods. For example, when you buy a car, you enter into a contract with a salesperson in which you agree to pay “X” amount of dollars in exchange for the car, title, and keys.
A covenant is much more than the exchange of goods; it’s an exchange of the persons themselves. For example, marriage is a covenant. Marriage is a contract, yes. Husbands and wives exchange certain rights such as the right to give each other children. But husbands and wives also exchange themselves with one another. They hand over their lives to one another. They pledge their love to one another.
In biblical times, two people entering into a covenant with one another would signify this pledge by slaughtering an animal into two halves. Then the two covenant partners would walk hand-in-hand in between to two two halves as if to say, “May I wind up like this animal if I break this covenant.” Likewise, throughout the history of our salvation, our Father in Heaven establishes covenants with his beloved sons and daughters.
And each time He establishes a new covenant, He brings more an more of His children into His family. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve the first couple. We heard about the second covenant in today’s first reading in which God extends His covenant promise to a family: Noah, his wife and his children. God made his third covenant with Abraham extending his promise to a tribe of people. The fourth covenant was made with Moses and was given to a nation. The fifth covenant was made with David and was extended to a kingdom.
As you might expect, time and time again, God’s children broke the covenant. And time and time again, God renewed the covenant. Because He is a Father who does not forget us.
When mankind disobeyed God and rejected His promise, the ground upon which their lives stood, shook and rumbled. In the midst of sin, our world sways and buckles and comes crashing down upon us like a house of cards... like an earthquake that seems to swallow us alive. And still our Father comes to our rescue. He comes down to our fallen world through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through whom, He establishes the sixth and final covenant, offered universally to all people by calling them into His Church.
In each covenant, God gives us a sign of His promise. In the Liturgy of the Word, we just heard how God gave Noah and his family the sign of the rainbow. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are about to celebrate, we will hear Jesus Himself tell us the sign His Father’s covenant renewal. In the sixth and final covenant, God gives us the sign of the blood of His own Son. “The Blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This is how much the Father loves us: He always keeps His promises. He always comes to our rescue.
This Lent, and, in fact at every Eucharist, you and I have the opportunity to receive the gratuitous gift of the Father’s covenant renewal with us. This Lent, Christ takes us by the hand, and walks with us, not between two halves of a sacrificed animal, but through the sacrifice of Himself. We will walk with him through his agony in the garden, his scourging at the pillar, his crowning with thorns, his carrying of the cross, his crucifixion and death. So that we may emerge from the earthquake and rubble of our sin by His resurrection.
“See, I told you my Father wouldn’t forget us.”