God’s Promise: Rainbows and Angels

First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2024: Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15; Psalm 25:1-9

A few weeks ago, after one of our recent rains, I went outside and saw a rainbow in the sky. I don’t think I’ve ever lived somewhere where I see as many rainbows as I do in Merced: there’s something about how many systems move across the valley that we routinely get rainbows. That, we are told in the story of Noah, is a promise from God, that God will never send a flood “to destroy the earth”.

This promise is an interesting one to be reminded of on the first Sunday of Lent. Mark’s version of the temptation of Jesus is brief, just one sentence. “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

What does God’s covenant with us, symbolized by rainbows, have to do with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness? Why did the organizers of the lectionary put these readings together?

We live in a world surrounded by temptation. The most mundane (and common) for most of us is consumption. In a world of fast fashion and cheap stuff, it is really to convince yourself that some appliance, pair of shoes, or outfit will actually change our lives. One year my Lenten discipline was not to look at any of the many catalogs that regularly arrive in my mailbox, trying to convince me that I need one thing or another: by the end of Lent, I was much clearer on what I did and did not need. Other temptations are more subtle, but reflect the rewards that come from playing up to the powers that be.

Jesus, Mark tells us, was tempted by Satan and was with the wild beasts; but also, angels waited on him. The angels here feel to me like the rainbow, a promise that God has not abandoned you.

As we enter into Lent, it is worth remembering all parts of this: God’s promise in the rainbow, Jesus being tempted, and the angels waiting on him. It is worth asking what temptations we are facing, major or minor, but also where we find angels waiting on us. Who is serving as an angel in our lives?

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