A rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant and blessing to humans. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

God's Word on Sunday: Rainbow offers sign of God’s promise

  • February 14, 2021

First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 21 (Year B) Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Sometimes the first attempt at a project fails. God created humans and all other living beings so that they could fill and subdue the Earth. But it did not go well. Violence and evil spread like a contagion following the expulsion from the garden of Eden and the murder of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain.

God decided to end it all and start over, so the flood came and destroyed everything. Everything, that is, except Noah and his family, along with the animals that were in the ark. And then it was a new day — God made a covenant with Noah and by extension, all humanity through his descendants.

This covenant made it clear that all the peoples of the Earth were important to God and that they would not be destroyed again. God was more or less reconciled to the fact that humans were weak and prone to do wicked and stupid things. But there was more: God also made a covenant with all living creatures, the birds and all the animals that were in the ark. God promised that they and their descendants would never again be destroyed by flood.

It is interesting that God did not confine covenants and blessings to human beings, and that the animals and other creatures were worthy of God’s care and promises. If that is so, then a reverential care for our common home makes spiritual as well as practical sense. As a sign of the promise, something beautiful that humans have treasured through the ages was placed in the sky: a rainbow.

The words of this teaching story need not be taken too literally — God does not need to be reminded by a rainbow of the divine covenant. But we do — we need visible reminders of God’s grace and mercy and of the great hopes that God places in all of us. We might also remember to cherish the other half of creation — the non-human part — recalling that it is precious in God’s eyes.

In the eyes of the early Christians, no distinction was made between the righteous and the unrighteous: Christ died to save all. The author of 1 Peter insists that no one was left behind — Christ descended to the realm of the dead to preach the word of God to the souls in prison and to extend His hand to them. The redemptive work of Christ continues to this day as we experience the cleansing and healing of the Risen Christ through baptism. God is faithful and true to the divine covenant with all of creation.

Baptism was only the start of the mission of Jesus. Before He could begin His ministry, He had to be tested in every way. The Spirit did not invite Him into the desert — it drove him. Satan did his worst with him for 40 days — a biblical number of testing and purification — but Jesus was up to the task in every way.

Being tested is not a punishment; it is often preparation for being entrusted with important tasks. His opening proclamation tells us all about His mission. The long-expected day of God’s intervention in history had arrived. The many years of watching for signs and crunching the numbers in the prophetic texts had now borne fruit. The kingdom — or “reign” — of God had come near.

God was wrenching control of the Earth from the hands of the power-hungry, the unjust and the idolatrous. Specially targeted were those who claimed divine honours and privileges for themselves. God was now in charge. Accepting this requires repentance — metanoia — which is an inner change and revolution of mind and heart. This repentance enables one to think in new, wider and deeper ways, and to see the world as God sees it.

The Roman emperors used the term “good news” to proclaim events of worldwide importance and it is probably used in this sense by the evangelist. God was putting the world on a new footing, wiping the slate clean and renewing all creation. God would walk with humanity in a special relationship, transforming people and leading them home.

In our own time, believing the good news includes the ability to believe that God is present and near and that there is beauty and meaning to our world and to life itself.