Lenten Reflection on Noah, the Flood, and God's Universal Covenant
As the Lenten season begins, we offer a meditation on Genesis 9:1-17, and God’s unending commitment to humanity. Lent is generally the 40 days in the church calendar leading up to Easter Sunday. It begins with Ash Wednesday and is traditionally a season of reflection, fasting, prayer, and giving.
The story of Noah, the flood, and all those animals on a boat floating across the deep blue of the earth is fraught with conflicting cultural images.
Whether we imagine cartoonish, pastel-painted wood cutouts in our grandmother’s bathroom (showing Noah and a few happy animals) or feel the existential dread that comes from the idea that God could be so angry that most of the earth would not only suffer, but die, this is not an easy story.
Really, there are no easy stories—not in our lives, and not in the Bible. We are subject to the jagged, jarring and painful things in the world and within ourselves. Somehow, we are invited by God to have hope alongside our deep suffering. It’s this strange reality that is the mystery of the cross; our pain, God’s pain, and the mystery of liberation are all caught up in one another. God holds us in our dying, and this is the good news of Lent.
In this season, we find ourselves reflecting on the promises of God “post-flood”. How does God connect with humanity in the wake of devastation? What do the promises of God to humanity then, mean for us now? How do those promises deepen our understanding of Jesus? These feel like valuable and worthwhile things to explore.
“I now give you everything”
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.’”
In the wake of the flood that destroyed everything, God’s commitment is to life, flourishing, and creation. Humanity is once again invited to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with life.
The whole of the human community falls under this new commandment. It is not specific to Israel. All peoples are called to use their hands to increase the presence of life throughout creation. A planet that was filled with raging waters will now be filled with life. This giving over of everything, of the things of the earth, and the mandate to flourish, is for everyone.
Reflection: As we enter the days that lead up to Easter, consider how God's universal commitment to life is for all peoples, and how that might deepen your understanding of Jesus' crucifixion.
“The covenant between me and you and all living creatures”
“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
God’s covenant between Godself, humanity, and all things living is given without end. God chooses commitment to all life and codifies that commitment within the ecosystem of the Earth by making the rainbow the seal of His promise.
God’s commitment to life has no qualification, no limit is set, and no timetable given. The post-flood world is under God’s forever commitment to life, and this must inform how we think about our living.
Reflection: Do you trust God's covenant in this way? What would it mean for your life, or creative practices, to integrate this vision of God's love and commitment into your actions?
A worldview that has space for God’s commitment to life means that our creating, our justice-seeking, our community-building, and our worship practices are set in the direction of the flourishing all creation. Our seeking of the life that is full (the life that Jesus talks about!) takes on meaning of cosmic proportions because it is in line with the promise that God laid within the foundation of the world for all people to discover.
The suffering season of lent must be experienced in connection with God’s unending commitment to life.
As we remember that we were made from dust, and that to dust we shall return, we must also remember that the time in the middle of our dust-ness must be filled with an unequivocal commitment to life.
As we reflect on the emptying out of Jesus, and as we empty ourselves in order to learn from the example of Christ, let it be done in a generous commitment to all of life. Amen.
Words: Geoff Gentry
Photos: Erin Son