When Jesus came up out of the waters of his baptism, by John in the Jordan, he saw the heavens torn open. And, the same Spirit that descended on him, drove him out into the wilderness, where he was “with the wild animals/beasts.” And so, Jesus, fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah, that “the wolf would lie down with the lamb” and “the leopard with the kid,” lives with at least one foot firmly planted in the realm of God, that Isaiah envisioned. With the wild animals and waited on by angels, Jesus is the vision of peace, when the earth will be renewed and redeemed.
Noah and his family also entertain the wolf, and all his wild, beastly friends, on the Ark! It must have been cozy – 7 pairs of all the clean animals, and 1 pair of the wild ones – sharing quarters with, the four pairs of humans. Somehow, on their 40 day journey, they managed to get along! You’d think it would have been tempting for the wolf, not to see, in the lamb, his next meal. Yet no such report exists, and as far as we know, enclosed within the Ark, God makes a sanctuary for all, bobbing along for 40 days, waiting for their return and renewal, from death to life.
In Lent, God calls us to return, for “it is the LORD who has torn us and the LORD God who will heal the tear.” And, returning is a process of learning again, learning the way of discipleship. Returning is a 40 day journey, strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament, practicing repentance, fasting, and works of love, before we reach the Three Great days of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But returning can’t be accomplished by individual journey’s alone. “Indeed, God… sent the Son into the world … in order that the [whole] world might be saved through him” – and so the new covenant is made with the chosen people of God, as a whole, on behalf of the whole earth.
In the Ark, Noah and his family, and all the animals, domestic and wild, are encapsulated and entombed, for a time, so that God can wash the earth clean. While the rest of Noah’s world who had turned their backs on God, forgot their responsibilities to the earth, and did not wish to return to God, are torn asunder, before God then heals the tear. The world had gone so far off track in the first 5 chapter of Genesis, after the Creation, that God was ready to start over. And so, God flooding the whole world for forty days, so that God can once again separate the waters from the dry land, and make a safe place for us and all the animals to live, is a brilliant re-creation of the third day of Creation! And the rainbow is set in the sky to be a reminder, actually, to God, though it also works for us. It’s God’s covenant of peace with the whole earth. Through Noah and all animals, we are handed a second chance. God is hanging up the bow of war, and signaling, in the openness of the sky, that all the earth is safe and renewed.
Jesus, comes up out of Jordan’s baptismal waters, to order the world in a new way too. The sky is torn open for the creative voice of God, who blesses Jesus, and is pleased with the good news he will proclaim, for the sake of the whole world. Jesus is a rainbow of peace for us, come in human form to heal all our tears, and dry our tears.
God doesn’t solve for us the problem of why there is evil in the world, but God opens the heavenly sky, a little bit wider all the time, revealing through the prophets and Jesus, the light of life, and the good news, that comes as a gift to us, so that we may become healers for each other, and proclaimers’ of the truth. Our humanness has not essentially changed. We’ve had all the potential we need since Adam and Eve.
The real revelation, as we begin this Lenten journey, is that God changes, over the course of salvation history, as much or more than us. We witness it here in the Flood story where God’s initial desire is to do away with the whole human race, all animals, and everything, because his heart was so grieved. But when he finds Noah, God is struck by the idea that if mercy is shown to a few, a remnant, God can re-new the covenant, and not have to start completely over. The Ark will be the means of salvation, a sanctuary, to plant the good seed that will renew the creation God loves.
Today, our relationship with the creation continues to change. Sometimes, for example, we hear of the wild animals, “with us” in the city, wandering in from the wilderness, and walking our streets. A mountain lion was reported in Roscoe Village three years ago – no one was able to ask it why it had come, before it was shot! And many people have seen deer in the city – we had one in the community garden across our alley in Logan Square. Out west, coyotes are a constant urban companion, and here and there, sightings of opossums, red fox, and raccoons, are reported. But it’s not because the animals have gone crazy, but only because we have gone crazy with over development, encroaching on their territory.
The animals are a bell weather for us. And within God’s good green earth – the intensified hurricanes and earthquakes, the droughts and flooding – all call out to us. Not just as signs of exploitation and climate change, but as signs that the whole Body of Christ, all of us as the people of faith, are failing to return, and are not living up to the covenant God has given us as creatures and care-takers of God’s creation.
The excesses of our world are perhaps greater in some ways than the excesses of the times of Noah. But because of Jesus, our capacity to return is greater too. This Lent we have the opportunity to return, to come to the font, and renew the covenant of our baptism. There, we die and rise with Christ, and are re-created. If God can change God’s mind and renew the creation, we can return too.
And then, the world may yet see in us, just a glimpse of the realm of God, where wolf and lamb lie down together, that we may have a clear vision who Christ is, and where all creation needs to go.