Friday, 3 April 2015

The rainbow behind the cross

What is it with Noah?  Just recently there have been a number of films recreating the story, the latest on Monday this week on BBC1.  There was a film last year shown in cinemas with a star-studded cast including Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone.  This included some bizarre extraterrestrial creatures, called Watchers, who beefed up the annihilation of the people with fire consuming them and large clubs to beat and bash them.  It’s as if drowning was not enough, there had to be high action annihilation, so that the anger would be expressed so much more dramatically.  When I saw this at the Showcase in Fengate it was preceded by quite a number of trailers for other films and the common thread running through most of them was that they were all apocalyptic in their tone and subject matter.  Monday’s trailed itself as being a hybrid of the Bible and Qur’an, as if they carry a similar theological thread and tell the same story.  It seems that filmmakers like the story of Noah because it brings judgment and doom, it offers the prospect of starting all over again, a resetting of the factory settings because the world is clearly broken.  Just yesterday we saw more evidence of this brokenness with the murder of 147 students in Kenya.

The point of the story of Noah is not the flood but the rainbow.  God is depicted as trying to reset what we think the factory settings should look like and it doesn’t work because within a few pages of the story the people are back to their old tricks.  We’ve misunderstood the factory settings that would seem to include sin and frailty, mortality and the ability to make a mess of things.  But the factory settings also include God’s undying patience and love, enduring forgiveness and commitment to the project of creation as he set it in motion.  This is a story repeated through the Old Testament.  God gets annoyed, even exercises some parental discipline with punishment to teach them and draw them back, but God never gives up on his creation.  The rainbow always wins through and the rainbow, in the story of Noah, was given as a sign that God would never again destroy the earth.  It was given as a sign of a covenant that God loves his creation and desires it to be, for life to be cherished and honoured.

This theme runs through into the New Testament where we are told that God so loved the world that he gave us Jesus.  It is out of God’s love, not hatred, that we find ourselves today standing at the foot of the cross.  It is this that means we call today ‘Good Friday’ and not ‘Doom Friday’.  God’s response is not to send a legion of angels to swoop down out of the sky, blasting all in their path with death rays and destruction, like the Watchers in last year’s film of Noah.  Christ is nailed to the cross and dies.  It is only through this that death can be defeated and life win through.  Because we all die, to transform death, to defeat its ultimate hold and grasp on life, requires it to be embraced, absorbed and the power of the resurrection to shine through.

This is a powerful notion to hold before us.  There is nothing that can defeat it.  Popularity alone is not the barometer by which we are to judge.  For the cross to bring hope it has to stand both inside the pain and suffering but also outside and beyond it, in the realm of the eternal.  That of course is what we see when we return in two days time, on the third day, for Easter Sunday.  The rainbow shines more brightly against the backdrop of the stormy skies, of black clouds and darkened earth.
Noah is indeed a good story to read and think about but not for an apocalyptic adrenaline rush. It is because it shows the grace and love of the rainbow is the only place that we can see hope.  All the apocalyptic passages that speak of final judgment point to rainbow grace too, which transcends the transitory passing of this age to reveal and open the gate of an eternal kingdom.  Grace always wins through and trumps even the biggest explosions.  That is the wisdom of God’s foolishness, the folly that turns out to be profound truth and our hope.  The cross shows just how serious God is about the rainbow, and the two are part of the same story and faith.  “God so love the world.”

Sermon preached at Peterborough Parish Church, Good Friday 3rd April 2015

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