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First Sunday of Lent, Year B, February 22, 2015
Lectionary index # 23

Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.
First Sunday of Lent, Year B, February 22, 2015
Before the first reading:

A group of Jewish priests rewrote an old story, editing it to emphasize the covenant that God wants to keep with the human race.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

For some Christians suffering persecution, the author of 1 Peter offers hope by placing their sufferings in a larger context. That includes the fidelity of God, the similar sufferings of Jesus, the power of the risen Jesus, and our share in that power through baptism.
Before the gospel acclamation:

This short passage gives us the first evangelist's memory of Jesus' first publicly spoken words.

First reading, Genesis 9:8-15 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological Background: We trust the reader will concede that this is not a report from an eyewitness just disembarked. It is rather a story told by a sage who has a history of his own and a purpose or two behind his telling. This sage has at heart the interests of an ancient priest.* He wants to remind people of their present covenant with the Lord and reinforce their commitment to it. So he emphasizes covenantal aspects of the ancient story: A very original covenant was almost irrevocably broken by humans' sin. Fortunately God found Noah and his family with whom to renew the covenant. To make this covenant seem even more important, the priestly author places in God's mouth again the same foundational words uttered to Adam and Eve (see Genesis 9:1-7, the verses preceding our Sunday selection). So does the priestly author emphasize that God is committed to the covenant with humanity, so willing to forgive, so ready to grant a new beginning.

Proclaiming It: Before starting the first reading, unless someone has read the boxed introduction above, read this one-sentence explanation to the congregation:

In this reading, the expression "I set my bow in the clouds" means God is making a rainbow appear.

Of course, emphasize the word covenant everywhere in this reading. The merciful renewal of the covenant is what makes this reading appropriate for the beginning of Lent.

And make sure your listeners hear "to Noah and to his sons" in the first sentence. Unless you give an introduction more thorough than the one-liner in the box above, "to Noah and to his sons" is the only early clue that the setting of this reading is the end of the Flood.

Finally, the rainbow image. Can you remember how magical a rainbow seemed, when you saw one as a child? If that's asking you to remember too far back, recall the last time you pointed out a rainbow to a child. For the Lord God, a rainbow is all in a day's work. But an ancient priest, telling this story to a hard-luck people often on the verge of scrapping their covenant, would have wanted the rainbow detail to seem spectacular. He'd want his audience to take the rainbow as an incontrovertible sign** of the finality of God's choice of humankind. You should sound like you want the same.

* Scholars who can find fine distinctions in the language of the oldest texts speak of several "sources" whose sentences are intermingled in the early books of the Hebrew Scripture. The Priestly source reveals his (or his group's) care for detail and for ritual; this is the editor behind today's reading. The Yahwist source gives us text where the name of the Lord is consistently "Yahweh" (an English approximation of the Hebrew). The Elohist source uses the name "Elohim" for God. The Deutoronomist is another source, the historian named after his characteristic text, the book of Deuteronomy (literally, "second book of the Law"). The idea is that once you identify the source, many details of a passage have a consistent explanation, and interpretation becomes more certain.

** In 2006, on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, this author's pastor preached about times God had changed His mind, as in the case of Jonah, chapter 3. He said the rainbow was to be interpreted as a cosmic PostIt note, a reminder to God never to destroy human life again.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 3:18-22 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: The original audience of this letter were persecuted Christians. The author, fortunately writing from relative safety, wanted to bolster their faith. To do this, he tries to remind them of their place in a larger history, remind them of God's providence in that history, and help them see their present sufferings in a larger context.

Our Liturgical Setting: It's the beginning of the season that culminates in our solemn remembering of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection, and the season that culminates in the joyful baptism of our new members, and the season of self-examination. And all the things we pack into Lent are packed into this reading.

Proclaiming It: Say slowly and carefully the sentence, "Put to death in the flesh, he [Christ] was brought to life in the Spirit." Don't rush or you'll make it sound like "Put to death the flesh." Though folks might well expect to hear that on the first Sunday of lent, that's not what Peter is saying.

What of this odd picture of Christ going "to preach to the spirits in prison"? Some scholars say this verse is behind the phrase "He descended into hell" in the Nicene creed. The older New American Bible translation (1970) mercifully divided verses 19-20 into three discrete sentences. And it gives this footnote, beginning with a memorable understatement: "There are various interpretations of this verse. It probably refers to the risen Christ making known to imprisoned souls his victory over sin and death." Our current translation runs together verses 19 and 20, and is the more obscure for it. As a lector, this puts you at fourth and fifteen on your own twenty. (International readers, that's a metaphor from American football, meaning "in a most unfortunate situation.") Sometimes you just have to punt. (Football jargon for "give up and hope for a better chance another time.") God will provide.

But you can speak clearly the much more important water imagery here. Peter says the flood prefigured baptism, which saves you now. Had you ever thought of your baptism when you heard or thought of Noah? Well, now you certainly have. Try to get your listeners to do the same.


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Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group

Archived weekly column of the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.) From the site of the Saint Louis Review.

Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from: courtesy of The Evangelist, official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, or of The Belleville Messenger, of the Diocese of Belleville.

Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site.

(Caveat lector. As of December 22, 2014, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: December 23, 2015