“Hope and Promise”
Sunday 21st February 2021
A cartoon depicts Noah as the village idiot and Mrs Noah saying “Noah your dinner’s ready!”
Or an American comedian does a skit
“Hi God, Noah here – What did you say?”
“Build a boat”
“50 Cubits long”
“Sure, what’s a cubit”
or a billboard sign:
“It took a group of experts to build the
Titanic and an amateur to build the Ark”
The message: Don’t be afraid to give big challenges a go!
You probably know lots of other Noah stories and we begin Lent with this story from Genesis Chapter 9 because this is our time of developing a new deal or new covenant with God. Like Noah, and as we hear in the Gospel, the message is clear – that out of darkness comes light, from death comes new life and perhaps most important of all, as the world begins the long haul out of despair (and CoVid bad news) comes hope and good news.
The story of Noah was precious to Jewish people – the symbol of a rainbow was a wonderful sign of promise, it reinforced their understanding of God’s constant watchfulness, stability and endurance. Even when they erred and strayed the rainbow would appear in the sky to remind them of Noah and remind them of God’s promise.
Personally, whilst I am rather sceptical about the ability of one small boat to save the world from ecological disaster – nevertheless, the story is probably based on some measure of reality and the symbols actually have cosmic and eternal ramifications.
As the world begins to emerge from this catastrophic pandemic we need to know that our hopes are well founded. Such hope will translate into confidence and stimulus and ultimately perhaps renewed appreciation for each other, the planet, and maybe even this power we call God.
I remember after the horrific Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday bushfires and a few years ago – the tremendous rallying of community support in both instances this enabled many people, who were running on empty, to find renewed zeal. There was incredible good will that overflowed in generosity in so many ways, that enabled hope and new life.
We have used ashes this morning. They are a great symbol – they remind us of death, even nothingness but, like the Phoenix, it is only from this that new life comes. That’s why the phoenix rising is a traditional symbol of Easter and it reproduces the great theme of the first Chapter of Genesis, that from nothing God created all that is.
Perhaps it is in disaster that this becomes evident – we don’t wish this on ourselves or even on our enemies (if we have any!)
But dark days come – often they come like a bolt out of the blue. For Jesus – the high point of Baptism (Mark tells us) was quickly followed by Jesus being driven out into the wilderness – tempted, being among the wild beasts and angels ministered to him.
It might have been these few words that have inspired mystics, monks and some spiritually unique individuals to practice short and long stints of deprivation and solitude.
Simon Stylites was probably the most famous – he sat on top of a pole for 30 something years. Others made their dwellings in caves, in the dessert or in rocks like Cappadocia. The Dessert Fathers (and Mothers) gave rise to a new spirituality that ultimately inspired the monastic movement led by Benedict.
But the journey before us is one of almost 40 days – it is not 30 years – but a relatively short time, when we might walk with Jesus. Any acts of deprivation or increased prayerfulness are our way of reminding ourselves of this journey.
We should never be surprised if there are dark times. In fact, they help prepare us for any rocky road or speed bumps ahead. But like those suffering in disaster, we know support is near and angels will help us.
Most of all, like the ancient Israelites, we too should have confidence in God, in his promises. Let the rainbow – that beautiful sign of many colours – bring us hope and fill us with renewed zeal.
Living thankfully in the promise of God’s great gift of Jesus – who is the good news. He is God’s new promise, new covenant as we declare in every celebration of the Eucharist.
In the renewed communion with him (you and I) leave this place, we go out into the world reflecting the colours of the rainbow in our lives – bringing God’s blessings to the world around us. It is our privilege and our joy.
Archdeacon Ray McInnes