Scripture Passage: Genesis 9: 8-17 (Lent 1B)
8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
This is actually the tale-end of the story of Noah and the famous ark filled to the brim with the remnants of Creation. And here…after all this time of pounding rains, all this time cooped up with animals of all kinds, all this time rocking and swaying with the boat…here, God speaks. So, does that mean that when we are mired in Covid restrictions and fears and, for us in Texas, sitting here with failing electricity, questionable water, and bursted pipe, we are waiting to hear God speak? Well, take note. The familiar bow of color is set in the clouds as a sign of the promise that God has made. We usually take it as a sign that God will take care of us, that God will right the wrongs of the world and order them yet again, that God will somehow assuage our pain and grief and put things back the way they were. Really? THAT’S not what that says.
Now we can either look at this story as a sort of children’s story, complete with rainbows and pairs of elephants and zebras and orangutans or we can look at this story as one depicting a deity who was so angered by the rebellion of the Creation that God wiped it off the face of the earth. Truthfully, neither one works. Indeed, this is a story about rebellion and human sinfulness. (And to be honest, what good story is NOT?) But the whole point is that no matter how far the human creation wandered from the Creator, there was a calling back, a return, an offering of love and forgiveness and a chance to begin again. Now, that’s hard for us to fathom too, possibly because we are not good at offering each other “do-overs”. We are not good at understanding a God who would dispense with all means of justified destruction and just offer Presence and Grace and a future filled with hope. It is hard for us to imagine that no matter what we do, no matter what we screw up or blow up or make up, God is offering a chance to return, a chance to be re-created into something that only God can imagine.
The Celtic tradition would look upon the rainbow not as a promise that God would “fix” the world or “fix” us, but as a threshold, a point between what is and what will be. So, the promise is not that God will fix everything, but that, always, there is a chance to begin again. We, always and forever, no matter what we’ve done or thought or how many times we’ve flaked out in life, have the chance to return to the beginning. God does not wipe what has happened. God does not forget what we have done. Rather God, knowing and remembering full well what the creatures have done in Creation, STILL God offers a threshold through which we can return to Grace–if we will only step through. In the empty space of our lives, God speaks.
In this Lenten season, we will often find ourselves surrounded by the darkness of the wilderness. We may find ourselves mired in despair. We might somehow turn up on a road that we never intended to travel. In fact, sometimes we find ourselves in hell. Maybe those of us in Texas haven’t had power or water or sanity for several days. (I, for one, am living as a nomad because my house has no water and the ceiling of the closet is now on the floor and on top of my clothes because of a burst pipe. That’s really a nice touch!) But these are never the final word. Even when tales of a place called Golgotha begin to swirl around us, there is always something more. When we come to the end, God will be there to beckon us into the arms of grace that we might begin again. God has promised re-creation. Maybe that’s signified by a rainbow. Maybe it’s just another way forward. But, you see, we have to let go of the chaos because it’s not the final say. God WILL speak again. And maybe THAT’S the point of this Lenten journey.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us…There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too. (Frederick Buechner)
Grace and Peace,