Fire and ice

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction,
Ice is great and will suffice.

– “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost (American Poet 1874-1963)

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Emerging out of an extraordinary ice storm event we would not disagree with Robert Frost that “for destruction ice is great and will suffice.” We are accustomed to naming hurricanes; can we ascribe a name to the silent merciless grip of ice? Lacking the equipment and materials, most of us in the region were powerless to fight back against the devastation of the storm. This was true city wide and on my neighborhood block.

An eerie silence endured day after day, a silence that is natural on frozen tundra, and in desert environments. The pandemic for nearly a year has restricted; the ice for most of the week prohibited our comings and goings. Those who lost power and/or water suffered doubly, and those who lost their lives payed the ultimate price. In our churches, we went from live streaming in the early stages of the pandemic, to limited congregations in recent memory, and back to live streaming on Ash Wednesday. It’s like the twilight zone. But, is there a way that this weather event can draw us deeper into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed on the First Sunday of Lent?

He is the Way and the Truth for us who foiled the temptations of the ancient adversary in the desert for forty days. Our season of conversion is now underway and we prayed in last Sunday’s opening oration that “we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ.”

Back to Frost, who in his poem shifts to the spiritual realm when he links the consuming power of fire with desire burning out of control, and the destructive power of ice with rampant hate. From the Preface of the First Sunday of Lent, the priest proclaimed that Jesus “by overturning all of the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice.” This is the destructive hate of a frozen heart and mind, hardened by sin and powerless to move in any direction. But, water is also life-giving, both in the countless ways as we manage our daily activities, and likewise in the realm of the spiritual where we endeavor to follow the Lord faithfully.

In fact, the Perseverance Rover that recently landed on Mars will scour the planet’s surface in the search for traces of water, past or present, as the indicator of life. St. Paul wrote incisively to his congregation in Rome. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

The waters of Baptism call upon the power of God through faith to give us a new way of seeing, We are not powerless and moribund in the assault of sin and destructive behavior; rather, in the waters of baptism we can be washed clean time and again to see the Lord always beckoning us forward on the path of new life.

Last Sunday’s first reading recalled the events in the time of Noe (Noah) who, quarantined in the arc for more than 40 days, floated upon the waters until they receded. From a floating zoo into the light of day had to be genuine liberation. St. Peter in last Sunday’s second reading reflected upon those whom the arc sheltered from the flood waters. “This prefigures Baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1Pt 3:21)

The first covenant in the Old Testament was an unbreakable bond between God and all of creation, especially humanity, and the rainbow was its forever sign. Throughout Israel’s history the covenant revealed God’s loving faithfulness, (hesed). Abraham and Sarah and their family were given the promise. God formed a people with Moses and the Israelites on Mount Horeb and the Ten Commandments solidified the covenant. The promise came to David that his lineage will never end, and it now comes full circle in the life-giving death and resurrection of the Lord.

The new covenant in his blood is an unbreakable bond that neither fire nor ice, nor a pandemic, are capable of destroying. Through faith and baptism we belong to Jesus Christ and may this Lent be a time when we turn away from sin and embrace the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation with renewed faith, hope and love.