February 26, 2012
Genesis 9: 8-17
Mark 1: 9-15
The church season of Lent is not normally something we associate with rainbows. The Medieval view of Lent is that it is the season of ashes and repentance – the 40 days before Easter where the faithful fast, pray and give alms in preparation for the Resurrection. Ashes, which are traced on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent), symbolize an acknowledgement of our own mortality (“ashes to ashes”) and a willingness to let those things that stand between us and God pass away. Technically, there is no Biblical injunction to observe Lent; however, the early Church began to institute the practice as a way of preparing people who wished to receive Baptism (and thus church membership) on Easter Sunday. Today, many people have “given up Lent for Lent”, seeing the practice as a morbid, dour remnant of a dying Church that is no longer relevant to the needs of modern people.
However, the Torah portion for this week reminds us that rainbows – and the hope for creation that they symbolize – are an integral part of Lent. It’s not just about ashes and regret for our sins. Rainbows are a reminder of the reason we are repenting, and what lies on the other side of the ashes (or the Flood, as the case may be).
In the Torah portion for this week, the Lord YHWH affixes the rainbow in the sky after the Great Flood which destroyed all life, except for Noah, his family, and the animals he had saved on the ark. After the Great Flood receded, YHWH said to Noah and his family, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 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. 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” (Genesis 9:9-11).
This Covenant is unique among YHWH’s Covenants, in that it is not only between YHWH and humanity – it includes all living creatures as well. This inclusion has some important implications. First, the inclusion of all living creatures in an agreement with YHWH implies that they are important enough and sentient enough to be regarded as parties to a Covenant – or binding agreement – with the Almighty. This inclusion necessarily implies that, if all creatures are important enough and sentient enough for YHWH to include in a Covenant, then perhaps humanity should regard all creatures with similar respect.
Secondly, the purpose of the Rainbow Covenant was for YHWH to establish a symbol for all living creatures of YHWH’s
repentance of their destruction: “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 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” (vv.14-15). If creation is important enough for YHWH to repent of its destruction, then shouldn’t humanity likewise see fit to repent of our destruction of the biosphere?
For Lent then, perhaps we could take a more holistic view than the usual pious “giving up” of personal indulgences (chocolate, swearing, etc.). The 2012 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast (http://www.macucc.org/pages/detail/2410), sponsored by the United Church of Christ, is a Website that offers participants daily reminders (through e-mail or Facebook) of ways to decrease our impact on the environment. Simple suggestions, such as refraining from purchasing bottled water or using cold water to do laundry – when implemented over 40- days (or more!) – can save a surprising amount of money and energy. One participant’s energy bill dropped by an average of $78 per month! More importantly, they represent a way that we can live differently and more mindfully of YHWH’s Rainbow Covenant, incorporating this mindfulness into our daily decisions. 40 days is an ideal length of time to begin to get into new habits – why not use it?
Let us be mindful of the Rainbow Covenant as we go forth into the Lenten season, treasuring all YHWH’s creation and resolving to live in a way that walks more gently on the earth.