After the flood

February 23, 2009

While I know better than to try too hard to harmonize the lectionary's
different texts, today's readings strike me as having an undeniable
relationship.

After the great flood God makes a promise, a
covenant, with Noah. The visible symbols of the promise are a rainbow
(Gen. 9:13) and a dove (8:8). The epistle somehow connects the Old
Testament reading (the flood as a prefiguring of baptism) and the gospel
(the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus). In the gospel, we
encounter the temptation of Jesus in its briefest form.

The
connections across these readings are rich with possibilities. Those who
have recently received the imposition of ashes and its reminder of
mortality now receive the good news that God brings life from our death.
The creation is laid waste, but then comes the hope of an everlasting
covenant. Just after the assigned Genesis reading comes one of the more
poignant human experiences in the Bible: Noah, having lost everything,
surveys the waste and devastation that surrounds him and responds by
getting drunk and lying naked in his tent (9:21). One rabbinical
interpretation of this is that Noah was simply overwhelmed by the pain
and escaped by anesthetizing himself.

I cannot read the story of
the great flood or its aftermath without remembering Hurricane Katrina.
Our community received and helped resettle hundreds of individuals and
families. I spent an afternoon in our former basketball arena, listening
to people who had traveled from their homes to bridges to the Superdome
to airplanes to our city, seeking to make some sense of it all. (To
reflect on this event, I recommend historian Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge, Spike Lee's HBO Series When The Levee Broke and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Tale of God's Will (A Requiem For Katrina).)

More
than one survivor told me that the flood was God's will, a sentiment I
interpreted as the human need to make sense of suffering, grounded in
our preference for order over chaos. Lent is our own orderly way of
coming to terms with suffering and death. The people of God have made
this journey, Jesus has passed through these waters, and those who
follow him may find themselves submerged in a chaos they had not
imagined and cannot now control.

The good news—in each of this
week's texts—is the promise of God, which takes the form of a covenant.
In Lent we wander with Jesus through 40 days, remembering his baptism
and our own. All that the flood represents—the storm, the struggle, the
suffering—is also part of a larger story. 1 Peter reminds the early
Christians and us that "baptism, which [the flood] prefigures, now saves
you" (3:21).

We live in the wilderness for a season, and yet we
are bound for the promised land. We remember that we are dust and that
to dust we shall return, yet we believe that we shall be raised from
death to a new life. All around us is devastation, and yet we look
toward a new heaven and a new earth. These are the promises of God that
sustain us through the long days of Lent.