Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Rainbows and promises

It's pouring with rain, God. Again.

It's been throwing it down for weeks now. It's supposed to be summer. I know you have your reasons, Lord, but it's maybe worth telling you that we're not best pleased down here to be all brollied up in July. 

It's made me think of Noah. You know - things like incessant rain, rising flood waters ... Is there something you're not telling me?  Is there someone round here who's supposed to be building an ark? I'm looking out of the window and seeing rain bouncing off the roof of the playhouse, splashing into puddles that indicate where the uneven bits are on the patio, dripping off the lintel. Yes, the grass is a vivid green that I almost wouldn't expect to be found in nature. Yes, the plants are doing fine, and each night we're saved the task of watering the pots of begonias. Nature might love the rain, but when the skies are dark and the clouds are low and it rains rains rains all the time, I start to long for a bit of sun.

School sports days are being cancelled (is that an answered prayer for some?) sports fixtures and concerts are being cancelled, summer fairs and fundraisers are being cancelled. We're used to rain at Wimbledon but couldn't you have fixed it so that the Queen didn't get rained on for her Jubilee pageant?

I know that you can't keep us all happy at the same time, God. I was reading just the other day that in Senegal recently the rains came after eight months without a drop and people were dancing in the street. I know that where forest fires are blazing a downpour or two might mean life or death. I know that drought and famine go hand in hand. I shouldn't moan about the rain.


Moving on.

The other day the rain stopped for a little while. There was a chink of blue between the dark masses of the heavy grey clouds. A few intrepid rays of sun lit us up with a strange light for moment or two.  Just for a short while all the detail came back that had been blurred by the falling rain. Everything was still there, even if we'd been unable to see it because of the rain.

The flowers in the garden were like jewels. Leaves beaded with water. Birds seemed to come from nowhere to find worms and visit the bird table before the rain came again, and the wind was still. All was quiet. It was a very special moment. Beautiful. Too brief to grab the camera, but I happened to be looking out of the window. Everything paused.

Another day the sun came out just before the rain stopped and there was a beautiful rainbow. Clear as anything over the rooftops there was this vibrant rainbow in front of the purply grey skies. I love rainbows. I have always stopped whatever I was doing to go and look at a rainbow. Why did you invent rainbows, except to be marvellous?  Lord God, I love you for rainbows alone. You did it just because you could. Because you could do something amazing like make a rainbow, and then smile and say, 'It's good.' Wow.

A few days ago I read this. I've read Genesis a few times and can't say that this particular bit ever leaped out at me as it did the other day; I reckon it's because of all the rain we're having.
'I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.'
Genesis 9:13

The covenant. The promise that you would not destroy the world again as you did in Noah's time. Your promise to us. You gave your word. You don't break promises.

No wonder rainbows make me think of you. No wonder they enthral me. They are a sign of your promise - then, not to destroy us and now, to save us.

All colours are there. All the beauty that refracted light can come up with. Red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet and all the shades in between. No paint set has a colour that isn't in the rainbow. No computer palette has a hue that isn't in the sky as light meets water after a storm.

The rain pelts down and we all take cover. Everything is wet and dripping. Skies are dark and oppressive. And then - the sun comes out. Weakly, then stronger, as the rain turns to a fine mist. We emerge from our hiding places and lift our faces to the warmth. The light. The colours appear in the sky as we gaze upwards. All the colours of our planet in a vast arc across the sky.

Who can say there is no God?

Your promise to us. Why should you have promised to Noah that the floods would not come again? You knew that we would not appreciably change our ways. Modern man is no more righteous than Noah's contemporaries; why not flood us right now? (You're not, are you? As the rain hammers on the roof windows here I'm suddenly struck by anxiety. But no, you promised...)

Why make a covenant at all? You don't owe us anything. You don't need to answer to us, however much we sometimes believe we can control you. You promised us because you are merciful. Because you loved us then and you loved us now. You want a relationship with us. A dialogue. And so you made a covenant.

No wonder the rainbow makes me think of you. Your power, your creativity, your majesty. Arcing across the sky. Appearing at the intersection of rain and sunshine. After the storm, you shine. You were there all along, above the clouds. We can only see the clouds from our vantage point down here, but the power is always there on the other side. We look up and see only heaviness, darkness, difficulty, and yet you are no further away than you are when the sun beats down out of a clear blue sky.

The dark clouds part and the rainbow begins.

Your promise. You won't destroy us. More than that, you want to save us.

'In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'
Luke 22:20

The old covenant, the new covenant. Old promise, new promise. The new promise written in blood. A bigger promise than the old one, even though what Noah went through was pretty dramatic. 

You'll save us. You sent your precious Son to write us the new convenant in his blood. You came to us. Why a new promise? Because you loved us so much that a promise to refrain from destroying us was not enough for you. You wanted to draw us to yourself, and yet we were too sinful to have in your presence. What to do? You wanted us near you, but you cannot be in the company of anything that is unholy. You cannot change, we don't want to change. It's an impasse.

You sent your only Son to buy us back. Make us clean enough to be with you for all eternity.

A new covenant.

A new symbol. This time bread and wine.
"In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'"
1 Corinthians 11:25

I don't know what the theology is in this, but I think you meant that every time we eat and drink, we should call to mind what you did for us on the cross. Not just when we're standing in church with the liturgy of Holy Communion, but three times a day as we eat our meals and drink our coffee. You didn't want us to remember you on a monthly basis, or even weekly, but all the time. Just as we need to eat and drink to live, we need you. We can't live without you, and what Jesus did opens the way for us to live forever.

You promised. You promised us that you would never leave us. You promised us that you would always be there. That there is no darkness dark enough that your light cannot penetrate it. You promised us that even when the clouds are low and it seems as if the rain will never stop, there will be a rainbow.

And when life eventually is done, the dark clouds will part for the last time and there beyond will be the rainbow in all it's magnificent glory.

I bet it looks even better from your side.

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