Lent 1 B "I Have Set My Bow" ~ Susan McGurgan
I have set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings.
The story of Noah, the flood, the promise and the bow
has become, over time,
little more than a child’s coloring page
or a cute wooden playset
with elephants and zebras and gibbons and giraffes,
marching side by side up a gangplank
while Mr. and Mrs. Noah beam from the upper deck.
Drizzled with honey and sprinkled with enough sugar,
any powerful Bible story can become domesticated--
something tame to play with on a rainy day.
But this vivid and violent story teaches us
something powerful about the nature of God
and the call to remember.
I will recall…
I will remember…
Remember, O Israel…
Do this in memory of me…
The invitation to memory is compelling—
It is repeated
over and over and over.
no commandment figures so frequently,
or so insistently in Scripture
as the call to “Remember.” [i]
Each generation of Israel
became Israel by telling and re-telling the story:
By living out.
By trusting in and sharing
this rich tapestry of communal memory.
the story of Noah, the flood, the promise and the bow,
offers us radical insights
and our God.
It illuminates God’s own being
as one of remembrance.
God relates to us,
God loves us,
God yearns for us,
because God remembers us.
We believe in a God who believes in us.
We remember a God who remembers us.
Memory lies at the very heart of our faith.
When we remember together,
our collective memories place us in the middle of the Covenant
and launch us
toward the hope of eternal life.
For communities of faith,
these memories are not --
simply lists of facts,
or libraries of doctrine,
or a timeline of shared history.
Rather, our memories are alive and active
and working for our salvation.
If we remember well,
our memories can form us.
They can immerse us
into experiences that transcend time.
If we are open,
these memories can place us in the wilderness,
gathering mana for the journey.
Memories can drop us into the synagogue at Capernaum,
witnessing a man set free.
Memories can place us on Calvary, looking up at the Cross,
and lead us to the empty tomb
and the joy of resurrection.
Our memories make us storytellers,
Our memories can weave us into a community.
These collective memories are so powerful--
they allow us to claim victory
even as the world announces our defeat.
They teach us
to celebrate new life
even as science pronounces our death.
They inspire us to live in gratitude and trust in hope
even as today brings anguish
and tomorrow looks bleak.
because we have a God who remembers.
Like an internal prophet,
memories remind us
that there may be a different path;
a better way;
a clearer lens.
Memory has the power to take us
to another time,
When we remember God’s saving presence in the past,
leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt,
raising up prophets in difficult times,
calling Lazarus forth from the tomb—
When we remember moments in our lives
in our homes and parishes and playgrounds and offices,
when God has blessed us,
healed us and forgiven us —
then we are free to celebrate here and now
even if suffering, or betrayal, or fear endures.
All because we have a God who remembers.
The men and women of the civil rights movement--
preachers such as Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernethy--
remembered and proclaimed
God’s redemptive action in the past.
They preached their conviction
that God is still the God of liberation;
that God is still the God of freedom;
that God is still the God of binding up and calling forth.
They threw themselves onto the promise of the Covenant--
onto the Sign of the Bow,
and trusted that God is still the God of remembrance.
God is at work in all of our memories—
Those that carry happiness and joy
and those that carry our secret pain.
Those jagged, sharp-edged, grit-formed memories are hard.
They sear and scrape and leave us with wounds
we fear will never heal.
given the right trigger,
return with the suddenness of a stealth bomber
and leave us gasping for air.
When personal memories wound,
we can lean on the promise
that we will have access to memories beyond our own;
larger than our own;
more hope-filled than our own.
Within our collective memories of faith
lies the assurance that we will not be left orphans--
that we have been woven into an ever-growing, ever lengthening tapestry
of faith and remembrance.
We are connected to the communion of saints,
synapse by synapse,
circuit by circuit,
cell by cell,
memory by memory.
When my “yes” falters,
I hear Mary’s bold and daring “yes.”
When my courage fails,
I see Maximillian Kolbe
stepping forward in sacrifice.
When death frightens me,
I touch the burial cloths of Lazarus
emerging from the tomb.
All because we have a God who remembers.
A theologian who suffered greatly
under a repressive regime once wrote,
“We keep our faith alive
by keeping our memories alive.
But even more,
our memories allow us to angle a lens,
so that those who are oppressed or in pain,
those who are suffering or have been wronged
can see their personal memories taken up
and made whole.” [ii]
Maybe this Lent,
you are struggling with jagged,
Maybe you are oppressed or in pain,
longing for connection
or struggling with grief.
Maybe you wonder how one solitary person can matter
in a universe that looks so vast,
and often seems so lonely.
I find it infinitely comforting that the Church blesses us
with these words at the beginning of Lent:
I have set my bow in the clouds.
I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings.
This is the promise.
This is the hope.
The Covenant endures
because we remember God who remembers us.
(c) Susan McGurgan
[i] Elie W. Wiesel, Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1986. [ii] Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 123.