2018 – Cycle B
Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
The story of Noah is a wondrous and fantastic tale that recalls for us this vast boat tossed safely upon the waters of the great flood filled with pairs of animals and birds. The image of the dove with olive branches in its beak as a sign of peace; olive branches which to this day surround the seal of the United Nations. All wrapped up in a colorful rainbow ribbon against a rain drenched sky.
Do you remember why the story ever takes place?
For as wonderfully fantastic of a tale, the story of Noah may be one of the saddest episodes in the Bible. Sad, not just because of the destruction of all life but that because of human resistance and sinfulness. Genesis records that “God regretted that he had made human beings on the earth and that God’s heart was grieved. And God said, “I will wipe them out…for I am sorry that I made them.”” [See Genesis 6:5-7] Have any of us so deeply felt regret?
We often see the Bible as our story, but did you ever consider the Bible as the story of God? The story of a God searching after you and me, after all humanity?
Consider the first words God spoke to humanity after the Fall. God does not wait for Adam to start looking for him, rather God immediately begins walking through the garden and calling out, “Adam, Eve, where are you?” [Genesis 3:8-9]
Consider the number of parables Jesus tells of a person searching… searching for a lost sheep, a lost coin, lost sons. Are these parables about us or are they about a God who journeys over vast territories of the heart looking for us?
The first letter of Peter places before us the image of Jesus in death going to the prison of the realm of the dead in search of Adam and Eve and all humanity since the beginning of time.
In the story of the Flood it comes down to one word, “but”. “And God said, “I will wipe them out…for I am sorry that I made them.” But Noah found favour with God.” “But” allows for another beginning. Another Genesis with a twist.
God’s grief, disappointment and anger will spill over into a flood of punishment. But what in the end is God left with…a destroyed world? And the descendants of Noah will not be any better than the descendants of Adam. We humans created in the image and likeness of God always seem to resist God. Punishment and retribution have never coerced us into changing our ways. Even when the punishment is the consequences of our choices. If a change of heart is not at the core of humanity and God wants to stay in relationship with us, then God must change.
So God hangs in the sky his weapon of punishment against us, an archer’s bow whose arrows are lightening. And there’s the twist. God surrenders. An instrument of violence is turned into a sign of promise, the arching rainbow across the sky. But the rainbow, though it may bring us colourful delight, is not for us. It is a reminder to God never again to destroy creation. The covenant that God makes with Noah, his descendants and all living creatures is not only irrevocable but only binds God. God will keep his promise despite our response or lack thereof.
By hanging up the bow in the heavens humanity watches as God freely chooses to limit God’s self and to willingly sacrifice divine power and freedom for forgiveness and patience bound by steadfast love. God is now subject to hope and disappointment, and the grief and joy that attend all relationships. Do we not see these emotions in Jesus; disappointment over our lack of understanding, grief over our deaths and sin, joy while playing with children and always hope that we will return his love.
Here, in the shadow of time’s beginning, we encounter the mystery of God’s weakness and vulnerability that will climax in the cross. We see this vulnerability in the child born in Bethlehem, in the man who hungers and thirsts in the desert heat among the beasts and angels, in the God who scandalously hangs from the tree of the cross.
The story of Noah is the story of a God who in grief and hope, fidelity and disappointment continually seek out after us – a wondrous and fantastic tale.
How will we respond to this God, a God devoid of power who patiently looks for us and waits upon us? “Adam, Eve, where are you?” Yes, where are we?