February 18, 2018
When God (or anyone at all) makes a promise it is for one purpose only, to provide certainty about a future that is either hopeless or so uncertain as to make life just too scary for living. Whatever might happen between the moment of the promise and the delivery on the promise, the one to whom the promise is made is invited to want and to trust the promise more than anything else. Thus the promise creates a series of demands without which the promise fades into irrelevance. Since the reliability of the one making the promise is the only assurance offered, the making of a promise invites the creation of a relationship of trust and demands trustworthiness in the maker of the promise. When we talk about God and his promises, we use the word covenant.
The first reading for each weekend of Lent holds up for consideration a covenant, a promise made by God in former times. We used to talk of the Old Testament as if there were but one covenant; lately, the tendency is to see four or five covenants in the OT. This year, the first covenant mentioned is that made with Noah.
The Creator had grown weary of the sinfulness of his creatures. So, he decided to undo his creation by allowing the waters above the heavens and the waters below the heavens to come together once more. In effect, he un-created the very possibility of life that was the work of the creation’s second day. Only light would remain! Noah, the only just man in the world, and his wife and sons and daughters-in-law (chain salvation!) were spared, along with a sampling of creatures that would be needed for life to return after the flood.
God does not undo creation without hope; his love of life is not killed by human sin; His commitment to his own creative work is a kind of ‘fundamental covenant’ that underlies all of our obligations to respect for life. Thus, the flood, like the waters of Baptism becomes an end to sin and the start of new life!
The deluge happens, the waters recede and Noah and his family and the animals emerge from the ark to begin creation anew. And God promises, with the sign of the rainbow that he will never again destroy the world by water.
The Fathers of the Church used to see the ark as a pre-figurement of the Church, the safe place for those who had been saved from the sinful world outside. The reference to forty days of rain gave them another ‘magic number’ to use in talking about Lent as a death to sin and a promise of new life. The promise that life would never be destroyed again was a ‘natural’ foreshadowing of the promise of a ‘supernatural’ resurrection.
Ironically, in more recent years, as the issues of drought and pollution and global warming come to the fore, there is a tendency to turn the covenant of life-preservation, into a call for more responsible use of the water we have and the water others need.
Really and truly and drily yours,