Studying the story of Noah seems particularly appropriate this weekend. The flood narrative really hits home, as it is so dark and gloomy outside. Yet again, this was not an uncommon tale in the Ancient Near East, the tale of the flood. We can look back on what is now the relatively well-known tale of Gilgamesh. If you can dig back into this Mesopotamian epic, the Utnapishtim, the only mortal to gain immortality, tells Gilgamesh his story. The gods sent a great flood to wash away humanity, but Utnapishtim built and ark and survived the flood. To be consistent, when the gods discovered that Utnapishtim had survived, they made him immortal so that their decree for the total destruction of humanity would be technically fulfilled. Just like in the story of Noah, we have cycles of seven days, and a dove and raven are released, as well as a swallow. Utnapishtim, too, lands on the top of a mountain, and when he gets off the ark the divine assembly smells his good sacrifice and a token of lapis lazuli was given for remembrance.
But to truly understand Noah, and I should pronounce it Noach (because Noa is the name of a young woman we meet later on), to truly understand Noah, we need to remember what led up to his naming. He was named to console the world from the harm that humanity had wreaked on the face of the earth. If you remember, Cain’s descendant Lamech boasted in arrogance about getting away with murder and bullying due to God’s sign of protection that had been given to Cain. A sign of protection that we abuse… does this sound familiar? God does not hand out a sign of protection like this again to Noah. Indeed, I was hard pressed to find another such sign in the rest of the Bible. The promise of protection is made, perhaps, but not so specific a sign as Cain’s mark. I don’t blame him. No, instead, this time, God gives another sign, still of a promise. That sign is not a mark of protection, it is not a necklace of lapis lazuli.
Rather the sign of promise is a rainbow. Now, the text just says bow. We know it is referring to a rainbow, but the connection we are expected to make here by just saying “bow” is to an archer’s bow. Now, I’m not above extrapolating a pluralistic interpretation - the rainbow with all of it’s colors signals the multitude that we are and is affirmed by God that our divine difference should never again be wiped out. However, to stay with it’s intention, what does it say that God hangs up an archer’s bow? Yahweh the divine warrior is hanging up a weapon that it may not be used. God also need a reminder of the promise that was made.
What is this promise - or more specifically, what is this covenant? The story of Noah is the first time we see this word, “b’reeth” in the Bible. This word usually connoted a political relationship, an agreement that both sides acknowledged. Good Reformed theology theology says that all covenants from God’s are gifts that we are recipients of. We have no part to play in them but gratitude. I love that notion. I think it is also helpful to remember covenant as part of a working and ongoing relationship with God. Oftentimes we look at the rainbow as a sign just for us, and we forget that in the text, it is a sign for God as well, a sign of the covenant to never again destroy all living things for the sake of humanity’s (let’s say) moral deficit. What is beautiful about this, is that the rainbow is a sign of mutual remembering.
Talked about this with us all at the congregational church last communion sunday. Re-membering. Bears repeating what this is. Re-membered back into the community. At a Bible Study this week with some other ministers, and we were talking about Jesus inviting the lepers, who were kept on the fringe of society, were invited to go forward to the priests for healing. The priests were concerned with making them clean. One leper came back to Christ, thanked him for the invitation, and Christ said that his faith made him, not clean, but well. Our well-ness, that which makes us whole and full, that which brings us away from the fringes and back into the community, this is God’s remembering, literal re-membering of us. This is what communion is - not a miraculous faith healing, but a new covenant, a sign of God’s promise to you that you are meant to be well in the community, that regardless of the ways we bring division, God always wants to re-member us. Like the rainbow, communion is God’s sign of promise that your story belongs to God’s story, and to all of ours.
I invite you to take a moment and consider - what is your story of promise, your covenantal story with God? We have multiple stories, as varied as the colors of the rainbow (see how i got my pluralist message in there anyway?) There are different deluges that descend on each of our lives - some strange flood that wipes out the old of who we were. What has been your flood or floods, sometimes with continual rain, and how have you been re-membered by God?
As we move forward this month, we will begin celebrating the variety of God’s people as we get past what is called pre-history into the origin stories of the bible, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, beginning with Father Abraham and Mother Sarah. But we come today to share the same story of promise, one that is shared as a sign to re-member one another, and for god to re-member us. The new covenant - literally in our liturgy, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood”. This morning as we gather at Christ’s table, we share the same story of promise that is both as particular and personal as each being on this earth and as universal as the gospel story that belongs to all of us, and calls us all to belong.