Sunday reflection

Today’s reading is from Genesis 9: 8 – 17

Do you remember, at the beginning of the first lockdown last March, the rainbows that appeared in people’s windows – some had been drawn and coloured in by some very young children, a bit scruffy and not very neat, but bringing with them a joy and enthusiasm, while others had been printed out with uniform lines and perfect colours, and many more were somewhere in between, drawn as part of a homeschooling task, or gifted to grandparents or neighbours who found themselves shut in and isolated. The rainbows were messages of love, and remembering, of hope and joy in an uncertain time, and I know many families would look for rainbows on their daily walk, giving them something to do on long days. I’m not sure where the rainbow movement started – perhaps schools encouraged pupils to draw them and display them and it was such a simple and accessible idea that the artwork quickly caught on, but there they were last spring and summer, brightening windows around Corstrophine, bringing neighbours closer together despite being apart, and symbolizing something positive and life affirming in challenging times.

Rainbows have long been symbols of unity and inclusion and hope, celebrating diversity and reminding us we are all linked by our shared humanity – think of the rainbow nation spoken of by Nelson Mandela as South Africa strove to rebuild a post apartheid society – many colours and cultures retaining their own identity but working together, complementary despite differences. Think of the pride flag, again different outlooks and experiences recognizing what we have in common while respecting and celebrating what makes us unique, and always those bright colours bringing positivity and joy into life’s grey patches. Few other symbols speak so directly of positivity – no number of corporate designs or smart slogans can capture a basic human understanding of the rainbow, its brightness bringing a natural exuberance and expectation, offering energy and connection rarely captured by words.

Can rainbows be considered religious symbols? Our reading from Genesis this morning certainly claims the rainbow as a sign of hope and promise, a gift given by God to speak of new life and a lasting relationship, but this naturally occurring arc of colours captures our imagination and excitement whenever we see it, and the writer of Genesis would have felt that same sense of wonder, of pleasure when he saw a rainbow. Why was it there? Today we understand about light refraction and reflection, but to the people of Noah’s day who had spent many days and nights on the ark, unsure of where their journey would take them both physically and spiritually, the rainbow was a sign of God’s presence and care, a promise made by God of God’s love, a sign that would tell Noah’s generation and future generations that God remembered and cared for his people: when the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.

These words weren’t spoken by Noah, looking for hope and reassurance, but by God, promising himself and his people – of all the earth –  his fidelity. I think it is reassuring and touching to know that God feels he needs a bit of a reminder, in busy days, to care, to pause and take stock, to remember what can easily be overlooked or forgotten, an aide memoir if you like to remember the dark days his people have been through and how hope is needed and searched for and celebrated, a gift from God to us, his people. And rather than the onus being on us to be hopeful and find joy, the gift is there already to be discovered and rediscovered and celebrated, by both God and humanity. The story of Noah’s ark appeals to many of our basic needs – light in dark days, stability in troubled times, peace in uncertainty, and the rainbow seen by Noah and his family after 40 long dark days at sea brought the same wonder and awe we feel today when we glimpse a rainbow in a grey sky or even in a neighbour’s window.

Times have changed since Noah’s day, and yet have hardly changed at all. We still look for hope and are pleased when we find it, we are still warmed by the colourful arc of light, we are still drawn out of our darkness and our isolation to find promise in a rainbow, and no amount of scientific explanation takes away from its mystical, magical quality.  I haven’t seen many rainbows during our daily walks in this second lockdown.  Perhaps when the first lockdown ended and the sun was shining we hoped the worst was over and life was returning to normal and we took down the window decorations. Perhaps when we entered the second lockdown, this time in the dead of winter rather the more hopeful time of spring, we didn’t have the energy or the where-with-all to get out our paper and crayons again to make new rainbows. Perhaps, as Esther said last week in her reflection – in this time that feels always like Lent and never like Easter, we are tired and fed up and are running out of positive energy and rainbows in windows don’t seem to hold the same hope, the same energy.

And yet when we glimpse a rainbow in our wintry skies, what pleasure it brings, what awe and wonder once more. I would suggest that if you have nothing else to do this afternoon you get out your drawing pad and coloured pencils and make yourself a rainbow, for drawing it will bring you joy, and putting it in your window will bring joy to others. We are not forgotten, but are loved and celebrated and understood, thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Loving God, grant us a glimpse of your glory,

An arc of light on a grey day,

A message of hope when we are tired and weary,

A sense of awe and wonder touching our doubting hearts.

Grant us a glimpse of your glory, not overwhelming or world changing,

But blessing who we are and what we are and where we are,

Celebrating all colours and communities,

All gifts and expressions of faith,

All stories of peace and hope and love.

Help us to be bold as we live in these days,

To find the energy to rise above monotony and habit,

To enjoy the simple pleasures of a cheery wave or a friendly phone call,

To celebrate your presence through a rainbow in the window, or a smile at a stranger,

To be aware of your presence and enfolded in your love.

For many these days are lonely and fearful, filled with sadness and despair,

Others are overworked and overstretched.

Bring light into our lives we pray, help us to recognize and rejoice in hope.

We pray for those who grieve, and those in pain.

Guide our leaders and decision makers,

Bring rest to the weary and healing to the broken,

And encourage and inspire us once more to be your people,

Your hands, hearts and voices on earth,

People of hope, of joy and of love.

Hear us as we pray together in the words your son taught us, saying:

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

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Page last updated: 21st February 2021 7:09 AM
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