In a week we will be moving into the season of Lent, with Ash Wednesday on February 14.
Lent is a particular opportunity to hear Jesus’ call to “follow me”, and to reflect on our own disciplines of discipleship.
To me, the reading from the Hebrew Bible set for the first Sunday of Lent this year seems particularly significant.
Genesis 9:8-17 is the last part of the story about the great flood in the days of Noah, the story of the rainbow and the covenant that God makes.
It’s a covenant not just with Noah’s family but with every living creature of all flesh.
The flood story (or stories, because there appear to be two stories with slightly different emphases and timings woven together throughout Genesis 6-9) became important for the Israelites in the chaos and trauma of their forced displacement and exile.
The significance of this passage from Genesis for me lies in the context in which we encounter it this year.
We are seeing violence and destruction continuing in many parts of the world.
In Gaza, hostages are being held, tens of thousands are dying, an enormous human catastrophe is continuing to grow, and violence has been spreading.
A major thread of the flood story begins with God’s observation that “the earth was filled with violence”.
Violence, injustice and strife mar creation.
In response, God determines to destroy creation.
The language of “opening up the fountains of the deep” and “the windows of heaven” suggests an undoing of creation – bringing back the chaotic waters that had been parted in the Genesis 1 story of creation.
But the flood remains only for a time. After the waters have subsided God recognises that there is still always a thread of evil in human hearts.
Even so, God resolves not to contribute to the violence in the same way. God hangs up the bow.
God makes a covenant, a fundamental promise, that however badly and violently people behave, and God will not let the arrows fly from God’s bow, returning those primordial waters.
God’s bow, the rainbow, is hung in the sky as a self-reminder for God.
Whatever the intentions were behind the lectionary writers selecting this passage for the first Sunday of
Lent, it seems to me that there is a direct link between this story and Jesus’ journey to the cross.
Even when soldiers come after him, and he is mocked, lashed, and crucified, Jesus does not respond with violence.
Jesus’ teaching, after all, included learning how to love your enemies. Even from the cross he offered forgiveness and reconciliation.
Loving your enemies involves a lot of listening, understanding and care. When wounds are raw, as they are now for many, even talking to those you see as enemies seems impossible.
But talking is a start.
I’m certainly praying for any and all channels of communication through which ceasefires can be achieved, and for all those who work for just and lasting peace.
I’m also praying for peace between members of different communities throughout Victoria and Tasmania.
During this Lenten period, may we find ways of supporting and contributing to justice and peace in our homes, in our communities, and in the world.
Rev David Fotheringham