[Genesis 7;] Acts 2.42-end; 1 Peter 2.19-end; John
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and
the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the
life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are
above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
OVER the next three weeks, we hear the fabulous flood story,
which is resonant with baptismal imagery that is so appropriate in
the Easter season, when, in the early centuries, the newly baptised
were instructed in the faith that they had embraced through
baptism. Can we be instructed, too?
The earth, which God had created very good (Genesis 1.31), had
become corrupt and filled with violence, going its own
self-destructive way. The flood is described as an act, not of
God's anger, but of his sorrow at a spoiled creation.
So God offered a new beginning, and promised a covenant with
Noah, who would be saved if he expressed his obedience by building
an ark. The exotic exaggeration of Noah's age expresses his
righteousness: he had outlived the normal 120-year life-span that
God had decreed (Genesis 6.3).
Archaeological records tell of extensive floods that may lie
behind the various flood stories of mythology. The editor of
Genesis blended two versions of the story, and we need not worry
about the discrepancy in animal numbers.
What is significant is the way in which the Bible's flood story
differed from those told in other ancient cultures, where floods
are capricious or malicious acts by the gods. Here, the flood is
God's judgement on human sin, with a view to a new beginning.
In this distinctive theology, in the biblical version of flood
story, God remains in control, but allows creation to express its
natural power. The swirling waters coming from below and the deluge
from above threaten a return to the chaos before God brings order
to creation in Genesis 1. God acts to deliver people through the
flood, and (reading ahead to the next two weeks' portion of the
story), once it is over, God encourages Noah and his family to make
a new and fruitful beginning, almost repeating the instructions
given to Adam. The slate was (literally) wiped clean.
This version of a flood story does not allow us to see natural
disasters as an angry deity's capricious acts, but as a consequence
of the way the earth is made, and the way we live on it.
Nevertheless, the vivid descriptions of the force and extent of the
flood and its devastating effect remind the people of God's power,
a theme expressed vividly in Psalm 29. The other side of this coin,
however, is that God uses that power to deliver people.
This theme of deliverance through waters occurs again in the
exodus, as we heard two weeks ago, and in Isaiah's prophetic
promise: "Fear not, I have redeemed you. When you pass through the
rivers they shall not overwhelm you" (Isaiah 43.1-2). God's
underlying care in seeking the deliverance of his people also
shines through in Jesus's words: "I am the gate. Whoever enters by
me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture."
As Christians, we also see this symbolism in baptism, and the
Church began to baptise from day one. What did people do after they
were baptised? They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship,
breaking of bread, and prayer.
They also ensured that no one was in need: God's generous
deliverance of them issued in their generous care of people in
need. The phrase "glad and generous hearts" is wonderfully
evocative of the atmosphere in the new Church: no wonder they had
the good will of other people, and that many were saved and added
to their number. This was indeed a new beginning.
Noticing how God personally shut Noah and his coterie in the ark
(a vivid image of God's slamming the door shut), and recalling that
Jesus is the gate of the sheepfold, thus facing danger to protect
those inside, can help us to make a response to floods and other
tragedies which is more reflective of God's care and protection. We
experienced last winter's flooding in Britain as a disaster, and it
brought things close to home; but will we remember the impact when
the next disaster strikes somewhere far away?
Perhaps our Easter thankfulness to God for raising us to the
life of righteousness can be expressed through glad and generous
caring for people who suffer from the turbulence of our world.