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 important--

something vital--

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.

In fact,

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 listening.

By living out.

By trusting in and sharing

this rich tapestry of communal memory.


This story,

the story of Noah, the flood, the promise and the bow,

offers us radical insights

into ourselves,

our biology,

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 --

cannot be--

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,

dreamers,

pilgrims,

believers.

Our memories can weave us into a community.


These collective memories are so powerful--

so transformative--

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.

All this,

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,

another place,

another chance.


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,

held 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.

Some memories,

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,

sharp-edged,

grit-formed memories.

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.

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