I have always loved rainbows—and I am not alone. Do you remember when rainbows popped up in the early days of the pandemic—on sidewalks, and in windows? Children drew them in chalk and crayon and marker and paint. And we smiled. Because rainbows symbolize the promise of hope. Rainbows symbolize the “new day dawning.” Rainbows symbolize that no matter how bad it has been, going forward won’t be like that again.
I have so many pictures of rainbows in my mind—the brilliant full-half circle rainbows that make you want to follow the leprechauns to the end and find that gold; the soft, almost mystical rainbows that you can barely see; the rainbows that are there even through the rain; the double rainbows; and, I swear I have seen it, an upside-down rainbow.
When I think of rainbows (and I’m showing my age here), Rev. Jesse Jackson comes to mind with his Rainbow Coalition, a multicultural movement—which I just recently learned was actually founded in 1969 by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, along with William “Preacherman” Fesperman of the Young Patriots Organization and Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, of the Young Lords.
And rainbows will always be linked in my mind with my sisters and brothers of the LGTBQ+ community—who chose a rainbow as their calling card, and chose “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as their music soundtrack. For there are so many hues in a rainbow. It is filled with the beautiful colors of life. But it is also something fleeting, illusive, and seen only after dark clouds and rain.
But, of course, growing up in a religious family, my first introduction to rainbows was the story of Noah in the book of Genesis, part of which we read today. So while Judy Garland sings of a time “over the rainbow,” today’s Scriptures remind us that we are all “under the rainbow” of God’s promise.
Both Genesis and Mark tell us of times of trial—Noah and the flood of the earth, and Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness. It is the first Sunday of Lent after all.
And maybe it is only fitting that the rainbow appears after the rain, that Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ announcement of the good news, comes after some dark days—some struggling with demons of all stripes—and some comforting angels as well.
As the song says, “It is well, with my soul.” And it is well, especially in this time of pandemic, that we hold onto our rainbows. It is well, in this time, that we remember we are not in the most difficult time ever—there have been people in the past, there will be people in the future (there are people right now in TX) that have had/will have/and do have a much harder time than we do. So let’s not get stuck in our own COVID fatigue. Yes, we are living in extraordinary times—but they are “under the rainbow.”
I have to admit that I’ve always thought the Noah story made God look bad. You have to understand that I have always asked inconvenient questions of Scripture. (Pity my poor Sunday School teachers!) Before I could revel in the pretty rainbow at the end of the story, I had to dissect the way we got there. I mean, there wasn’t any negotiation between God and the humans, that we know of. There weren’t billboards on the travel routes. We don’t even have any prophets running around, yelling on street corners, or from TV screens, about how we are messing up and if we don’t change—It could all end.
I don’t remember how any of my teachers (in church or in academia) explained God’s fit of pique. And since I (along with most Biblical scholars) consider the first chapters of Genesis to be not the objective recording of the first days of our world (approximately 6000 years ago), but the mythic storytelling of our beginning as a world, as a human race—it makes me ask—what were the storytellers trying to say? Is this a brother’s Grimm tale of spooky nature (vast watery expanses instead of the dark forest)? Is this a cautionary tale about listening to the voice of God even if no one else is (does anyone else have Bill Cosby’s skit about Noah hearing God playing in their ear)? Is this the best way the storytellers could describe the seeming un-understandable disasters that have befallen our world (with a miffed deity deciding to wipe the slate clean)?
Or maybe this isn’t so much a story about God’s emotions as it is a story about our perception of who God is. Maybe without a visible sign, without a talisman we could see to hold onto, without a story of God’s intentions, God’s desires for us, God’s promise, we as human beings weren’t quite sure of God’s love. Yes, God had spoken and created in those first chapters. Yes, we were part of that creation—we got to walk in the cool of the evening with God. But we had messed up, we had gotten thrown out of the garden. We had found ourselves in a world full of toil and pain and sorrow and loss. And God seemed very far away.
The world of Noah was a devastating wash of human egocentricity and a lack of Godliness. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Can you imagine a world without rainbows? Would you want to live in a place that had no inspiration, no unexpected beauty, no awesome happenings? If one lived in such a world, you might imagine that the best thing to happen would be something to wipe it all off the face of the earth. To blow it all up. To start over, somewhere else.
But we don’t live in a world like that, those of us who follow Jesus, those of us who lift up prayers to the One who is I AM WHO I AM, those of us who call on God’s name and walk humbly in God’s ways. Living under the rainbow means we believe in God’s promises—the promise God makes to always be in relationship, in covenant; the promise to never give up on our world, no matter how crazy we get; the promise to help us make something out of the wreckage of our lives. Living under the rainbow means we are surrounded by something we did not earn and cannot control. Living under the rainbow makes us brothers and sisters with all of creation—all that lies canopied by red and orange and yellow and green, and blue, and indigo, and violet.
As I write this sermon, people in TX are in dire need of potable, drinkable, water. How amazing that the Seasons of the Spirit commentary lifted up the importance of water and our relationship with water. Hear this declaration from the Indigenous Peoples who have lived on this land longer than any of us.
“As Indigenous Peoples, we recognize, honor and respect Water as a sacred and powerful gift from the Creator. Water, the first living spirit on this earth, gives life to all creation. Water, powerful and pristine, is the lifeblood that sustains life for all peoples, lands and creation. We know that by listening to the songs of the Water, all creation will continue to breathe. Our knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible at all times in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.” – Musqueam Territory Elder
It seemed an interesting choice to lift up water in this week when water is the bad guy—water floods the earth. But then I realized that water is also present in the baptism of Jesus. And water is what allows us to see a rainbow. If I remember my science correctly, we see rainbows because light is passing through the prism of water in the air—and that light is split into its component wavelengths. Water is such a part of life under the rainbow, and water makes the rainbow visible to us, as well.
I once heard someone say that the most important commodity in the future will be water—who has it, and who controls it. With our thirsty friends and family and neighbors in TX howling in our ears, with the water walkers and water warriors of our indigenous tribespeople pounding on the truth, may we be made conscious that we are living in the United Nations declared “Water Action Decade.”
So, what to do with living under the rainbow? Here are a few lessons that I will take with me for this Lenten season, for this weird and trying time in all our lives.
--I remember the persistence of Noah—out there on the water alone (in charge of only a handful of humans and ALL those animals), wondering if there ever would be dry land again, wondering if there ever would be anything resembling normal again, wondering how long this secluded, cooped up existence would last.
--I remember that the rain did eventually stop.
--I remember that it took three tries to find any sign of anything other than water.
--I remember that the humans built an altar to thank God for their deliverance.
--And I remember God took water, which had been so destructive, and made it part of a new thing, a beautiful thing, a bow in the clouds.
Isn’t that so true of our lives as well? We are in a wilderness, or on a sea of sameness. We are fighting with temptations, and demons, and the wild beasts of our desires to be done with this way of life. Even in times before COVID we fought temptations and demons and wild beasts. And if we take notice, we might remember the blessings God has bestowed on us. We might remember the wonderful words whispered into our ears that we are beloved, we are daughters and sons, God is so pleased. We might remember that even in the midst of trials, there are always angels nearby—always those who would bind up wounds and lift up spirits and bring the healing God intends. We might remember that Jesus brings Good News. Jesus wants us to hike our way out of our wilderness—run our boat aground and get off the water—so we might be part of what he calls “the kingdom of God,” and what I am calling today “living under the rainbow.”
I am not suggesting this is time for an idealized motto like: “everything is going to be ok.” The rainbow does not stop the rain. The rainbow only asks that we look for beauty in all situations. That we hold onto hope, and the insistence that God loves us, and we, in turn, are to love one another. And I have to admit, that is a tall order in a fractured world. It is hard to love someone who hates you—for whatever reason. But as Dorothy found in her somewhere over the rainbow, even those worlds we dream of have their problems—we need to work on the world we have, making it more colorful, making it more just and merciful and humble and good, making it more of what God intended.
How does that happen? And I see another image of water in my mind—the Delaware Water Gap, that V shape in the mountains that always catches my breath whether I am heading out or in. Water did that (as it created the Grand Canyon). Rock seems so solid, so permanent. But water, (moving water), bit by bit, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, eon after eon, made its mark even on that “permanent,” solid rock. I know we want change to happen today (if not yesterday).
And we should work and pray and advocate and push as hard as we can for as much justice and equality and happiness for all as soon as possible.
But we should take heart from a place like the Gap. We should take heart from the rainbow in the clouds. We are part of a movement that intends to wear down the high mountains of sin and selfishness in our world. On this First Sunday of Lent, let us recommit ourselves to doing our part. Let us put on our armor for battle with the tempters and the wild beasts and the floods. Let us take a deep breath, and join hands, even if virtually. For there is much to do. The Kingdom of God has come near. You can see it in the clouds. And we are called to live “under the rainbow.”
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.