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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

The Rainbow Promise

Genesis 9:8-17


Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and 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. 11 I 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.” 12 God 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: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I 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. 16 When 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.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”


Those of us who have lived in New Jersey for a while remember Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The winds from the storm created large areas of devastation. Trees were down and, in some places, rows of them were flattened. Homes were damaged, cars overturned, and electricity was out for days. But there was not much rain. Except for those coastal areas that experienced storm surge, water damage was minimal.


The year before, in 2011, Hurricane Irene hit. High winds created devastation in this storm, but most damage was caused by the deluge of rain. Houses, buildings, subway stations, roads, and more were devastated by flood waters from overflowing rivers, creeks, lakes, and ocean tides. It seemed as though the sun would never come out. When it finally did, the sunlight was heartily welcomed.


In Noah’s day the flooding destroyed everything. He had listened to God and built a huge ark to house he and his family as well as pairs of animals from all species. I imagine his expectation when the sun came out and the dove came back with an olive branch was that the door to the ark would open and they would walk out into an expanse of green, dry land.


Instead, all they saw was devastation. Noah may have been grateful to be alive but wasn’t prepared for all that awaited them. He was in disbelief at the landscape, the muck, and downed trees. He may have a rock to sit on, putting his hands on his face wondering what God had done. In despair, he yelled at God, “Why did you save us for this?”


After spending time in his pity party, he realized that God did save them for this. Noah understood that they were alive. Not only breathing, walking, and eating, but for a new life, a fresh start. He got up and built an altar to the Lord, praising God for who God was/is and for his care and compassion.


Noah got up and began the process of picking up the pieces. Then God spoke. God explained the covenant he would establish between Noah and his descendants, and all of creation.


What is a covenant? A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties, a commitment in which each party agrees to carry out their side of the bargain. The agreement establishes a relationship between the parties.


Here, God establishes his covenant with Noah and all creation. But unlike the covenant God made with Moses and the Israelites which include God’s expectation for them through the Law, the covenant with Noah was one-sided. There were no stipulations. No blessings for obedience or curses for disobedience. The integrity of this covenant was based solely on God.


The substance of this covenant was God’s promise to never again cause devastation by God’s hand. Knowing that Noah and his descendants would need affirmation of the covenant, God put his bow in the sky, a rainbow for all to see, a visual picture for God and for the people of his promise.


A rainbow has a magical quality. I remember one that I saw in Norway. We took a trip to visit a beautiful fjord. First was the train ride down the mountain, followed by the boat that motored along in the water which gave us an incredible view. Finally, was the bus trip back up the mountain. From the bus, an unbelievable rainbow was visible. Every color clearly defined in the bow that stretched across the horizon in front of us.


The meteorological explanation for a rainbow is that one only appears after a rain when the water droplets in the air reflect the rays of light creating a spectrum of color, like a prism does. Whatever the reason for its existence, a rainbow is an amazing sight. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet bands arch in the sky. (Red is always on the outside). The sign of God’s unchanging promise.


God’s promise is not the complete absence of loss and destruction in the future. Rather, it is the promise of hope after a loss, hope after devastation.


The season of Lent reminds us of God’s continuing promise, the promise of the gospel. No that there will be life without death, but that there is resurrection from the dead. The promise isn’t that life will be clean and tidy. Like the time after the flood there will be disappointment and despair. Yet, the realization that God has not abandoned us is the sign of the cross.


Neither the promise of the rainbow nor the promise of the cross changes the human heart. We are just as inclined to evil as the people were before the flood. That hasn’t changed. The rainbow and the cross are reminders of who God is and who we can be.


There is hope in the process of becoming who we can be with God’s help. This hope is expressed quite well in the song, “Change My Heart, O God.” The lyrics are:


Change my heart, O God, make it ever true.

Change my heart, O God, may I be like you.

You are the potter; I am the clay.

Mold me and make me,

This is what I pray.


These words lead us to recognize that we are not done changing and growing, and that God is never done with us. God remains with us despite of who we are, despite our inclination towards evil.


God’s covenant is solely rooted in the gracious and unmerited action of God. We might think of God’s sign of the rainbow as a post-it note or phone chime that reminds God of his promise. But God’s remembering is different from ours which is usually a reminder of the need for attention and intervention to a detail of our life. God’s remembering is God’s commitment to be in relationship with sinful humanity. Despite what we do, despite what we do to creation, God’s promise remains.


We regularly express our belief in God’s promise when we pray The Lord’s Prayer: deliver us from evil (destruction). We acknowledge that only God is the one who can save us from evil and save us from ourselves. That God is the God who remembers affirms for us again that God is the only one that holds back the water of the flood.


Lent is normally associated with solemness. With fasting, prayer, and alms giving. A time for meditation on our sinfulness. Lent points us ahead to the sign of the cross. To the slow steps to get to the place of resurrection. The rainbow reminds us that God is already waiting for us there. God is watching us approach and beckoning us to the ultimate sign of new life and resurrection.



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