Archbishop Peter A Comensoli preached the following homily on the first Sunday of Lent 2024 at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

Water is the dominant image present throughout the Word of God given to us today, at the beginning of our Lenten journey.

Water is the image at the centre of the covenant God established to save all created life, following the devastation of the great flood. It is by water that human lives are saved in faith, according to the Letter of St Peter. And water is very much a part of the forty days of temptation experienced by Jesus in the wilderness, in that he is driven there by the Holy Spirit following his own baptism in the waters of the River Jordan.

Water as life, water as faith, water as hope. But the central image of today, flowing through all these images, is that of water by salvation coming to all creation, and for our re-creation.

When Jesus spoke his first words of proclamation, ‘The time has come, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News,’ he had ringing in his ears the voice of his Father at his baptism, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; in you I am well pleased.’

That familial acknowledgement of Father to Son, became the call of conversion from Sibling to siblings, from Jesus to us. Our salvation is near at hand. God’s time for us had come with the water that washes away our iniquities, our shame. Jesus invited us into the household of God, by His word of Good News, given to us to believe in.

Jesus is still calling people to repentance, and he is still ready to embrace us.

When it comes to thinking of what this salvation is, I cannot help by think of a little child. A girl or boy – even, at times, an adult child – will run to their parent, when protection is needed. It is the best image I know of what it means to be saved. To be saved is to know where our protection lies, where our safety can be assured, where love will shelter us – and to go there. That is salvation.

In this sense, repentance is our running into the arms of the one who offers us protection. And forgiveness is the embrace received. When Jesus began calling people to repentance, he was standing ready to embrace. Jesus is still calling people to repentance, and he is still ready to embrace us.

The water of baptism is a symbol of this. In baptism we see both the destructive energy of water, and its life-giving power. In baptism, we go with Christ into his death and emerge into his resurrection. He stands there, waiting for us to emerge re-created, into his saving arms. This, indeed, is good news to believe in.