When was the last time you saw a rainbow? There is something absolutely glorious about one! To look up at the sky after a rainstorm and see that arching band of colors brings smiles to faces and joy to hearts. We Christians and Jews see a rainbow as expression of God’s promise of his Fidelity to the people he has created. But even humanist scientists who only see the science of refraction of light rays pause to relish the glory of the sight of a rainbow.
It is interesting to note that, really, the rainbow is always there—we just can’t see it. When I taught fourth grade I kept a prism on the shelf beneath the classroom windows. Children could play with it when they had finished their work. It kept them fascinated day after day. They never tired of seeing rainbow colors.
The prism shows that within “white” light there is always the potential for a rainbow. After a storm the drops of moisture still in the air bend the light rays like a prism to create a great, glorious arch in the sky. God lets us see the colors which are always there. That which is hidden becomes visible to us.
Keep that thought in mind as we look at today’s Scriptures.
In the reading from Genesis we hear the story of the creation of the rainbow. God blessed Noah and the animals. It was time for them to go on with life. He then made his covenant with them and all who followed after. “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth….This is a sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between you and me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
The story of the rainbow introduces into Scripture the concept of covenant. A covenant is a promise. A covenant is different from a contract. In a contract, if one person breaks the terms of the agreement it releases the other person from the obligation to continue to keep it. It is what we family therapists call a “quid pro quo” agreement—if one person violates the terms, the other person is free to also violate it. Loosely translated, that means, “Do unto others as they do unto you.”
A covenant is more serious. A covenant is a pledge to keep your commitment forever—no matter what the circumstances, no matter what happens, no matter how you feel, no matter what later becomes clear to you, no matter how much the other person violates the terms. For us, Baptism and Marriage are covenants. We may violate their terms, but our obligations continue.
It is interesting that in the story of the rainbow, God made a covenant with Noah and his family, but he did not require that Noah or his sons promise anything back.
God said in effect, “No matter what you do, I will never again destroy this world I have made with a flood. I choose in love to keep working with people, no matter what they do. I will maintain the creation I have made.”
One way to look at the Old Testament is to see it as the story of God’s Fidelity. He made and kept covenants again and again. God made and kept promises to Abraham to begin the story of his chosen people. He made promises to the Israelites as they left Egypt to return to Canaan and gave them the Law, which was to help them keep the covenant. God made promises to David and his posterity. He made promises of coming doom when the people and kings continued to violate the Law. As the people went into exile, God promised a coming new king and a new kingdom.
Through it all, God kept his promises. He upheld the covenant. He demonstrated his Fidelity. People who study the world’s religions say that is one thing the Jewish people added to the worldwide understanding of who God is: they saw that God remained faithful through the path of history. They saw that God remains the same day after day, year after year, century after century. We can count on him to be who he is: Goodness as Being—eternal, immutable, that which has been, is, and will be.
That was the promise of the rainbow.
We are reminded of the cost of that promise in today’s Gospel. We are about half through Mark. In all four Gospels, about half way through, there is a change in tone and mood. Jesus makes a shift in how he describes himself. He begins to “journey to Jerusalem” and his death on the cross. We see it today in the brief exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asked his disciples who others thought he was—and who they thought. Peter answered well, “You are the Christ.”
Once Jesus knew there was at least a basic understanding of this, he began to introduce the idea that as the Christ, he would establish a different kind of Kingdom established at significant cost to him. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Peter did not respond so well to that thought. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Jesus corrected Peter in turn, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It is still so hard for us to understand, for ME to understand: the wisdom of God that overcomes evil with self-giving Love. Yet how could good be truly good if it used evil to accomplish its purpose?
Jesus’ journey to the cross (and resurrection) began when the world was created. God created the world as an expression of his outpouring Love. Even when he decided he needed to start over at populating the world he had created at the time of the Great Flood, he kept the remnant of Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. Then he made and began to keep the covenant that eventually meant he experienced death for the transgressions of his people. That was the cost of the rainbow. He did that so we could regain capacity for eternal life and joy.
Some days are floods of troubles. They are times of being confined with a boatload of smelly animals. They are crosses and journeys to crosses. They are struggles with those we love. I’ve had several of those kinds of days lately.
But in those days the rainbow is still present, even though we can’t see it. Always in the light the rainbow lives. We just need the mixture of rain and sun or a prism to see it.
Lord, when there are rainbows in my life, help me take the time to rejoice in them. Let me never tire of finding beauty and joy in your creation. When there are storms, even long ones, help me remember that as soon as the clouds pass, I can see your lovely colors as your light mixes with rain. When things are awful, help me remember you paid a great price for the rainbow. And, on ordinary days, as I hope this one will be, help me remember that the rainbow is always there. Your Goodness is fully present in ordinary light and life. I may need a prism of prayer or conversation to refract the light so I can see it, but your goodness surrounds me on this ordinary day. Amen.