There are a myriad of disaster movies that exist of extinction events of cataclysmic proportions. Events on earth to wipe out or nearly wipe out humanity. There is an even greater list of movies that talk of a new beginning – After some apocalypse or other. Why are some so obsessed in the arts with beginning again? Is it that somehow they have realised that things are not right? Through fantasy adventure and story they are trying to tell themselves and others that we need to do things better? Or is it because we are not able to deal with what we see before us? Unable to deal with the pain and the hurt we inflict on other humans and the rest of the world, animal, plant or mineral? The Archbishop of Wales spoke movingly at the recent Governing Body meeting in Llandudno on the need to face up to our mortality, reflecting on his own recent bereavement, the death of his wife Hilary. We find it difficult to speak of pain and death, and yet often these films made as mere entertainment. Is there, I wonder, an underlying, even subconscious, level where deep down our very being knows to its core that all is not well? I don’t have the answers to those questions, though I do know that some of these films were made specifically to try to wake us to the realisation that this earth is in need of our cooperation. Perhaps they have worked for some. I also know that such story telling is not new. The biblical word for relationship between God, the earth and humanity is covenant. A covenant is established and we hear it’s theme echoed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ But in today’s reading from Genesis we hear part of the story of Noah. This story is a covenant story, a story about relationship. A relationship that was broken, and made whole again. Essentially the Noah story is a creation story and in places it echoes the first chapters of Genesis. I could also call it a story of re-creation as it moves from a broken relationship to destruction through to a new beginning. It like other similar stories attempts to make sense of the world. Our focus is often on the ark, the rainbow and the dove, rather than the beginning of the story, the why. The why question is answered with ‘because the relationship had broken down.’ Easter is our focus at this time of year, the why question is answered with the same, because the relationship was broken.
In the words of Bishop John Robinson, in the last sermon he preached at Trinity College Cambridge. “Christians ought to be able to bear reality and show others how to bear it, or what are we to say about the cross, the central reality of our faith?” In our world there is suffering, there are broken relationships, there is even, though we seldom wish to admit it, death. In the story of Noah, though we focus on the restoration and re-creation, it is also a story of destruction. Through the darkness and pain comes the olive branch (hence the phrase) the branch that offers hope of new life, of new creation of beginning again, not in some utopian land as our film media might suggest, but here and now with what is before us. And this brings us to the bow in the sky, the reminder of the promise, the covenant with God. And it brings us to Sabbath. The seventh day is the climax of the creation story, (rather than the sixth when humans were created) the day of rest, of perfection. All is good. However, the covenant at the end of the the story of Noah has a twist to it, one which inconveniently the compilers of the lectionary have felt they ought to leave out. The difference is that, after the flood, yes the covenant is restored, and yes there is a reflection of Genesis, however here there is an understanding of pain and death and destruction. Also it marks a transition from vegetarian to omnivorous. In order to understand Easter, we need both ends, the dark and the light. There is suffering, there is pain, there is darkness. But there is also light, there is a way through to the Sabbath day where God and the earth rest.
Archbishop Barry ends his address to Governing Body with the following: “To believe in the God of Jesus is to believe in a God of compassion and hope and therefore of endless possibilities. God’s faithfulness and love therefore abide, for He is the God who can and does make all things new, for He is the Alpha and the Omega.”