For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter 5 Genesis 8:1-19
How’s the lockdown going for you? It appears that the worst might be over, and now the government are beginning to think towards re-entry, and how we can get things at least as near back to normal as we can.
No doubt Noah and his family were climbing the walls too, and if you think it’s been difficult for you, spare a thought for that lot. No Zoom, Whatsapp or Wifi, and in any case there wouldn’t be anyone else left to talk to. But as much as they would no doubt have loved to go outside the minute the rain stopped, God, in his wisdom, knew that they needed an escape plan, and that it would take time.
I’m not sure we can apply this passage directly by sending out various birds, like pit canaries, and seeing whether or not they get Covid-19. But I do think this is actually a study in patience. After 40 days in lockdown, Noah found the ark grounded, but it wasn’t yet safe, so a further period of waiting ensued. We’re not told for how long the raven flew back and forth, but after a failed attempt to get the dove to land there were two further seven day periods of waiting before it was safe to disembark. Even when it was safe for the dove, he erred on the side of caution.
What have you been waiting for these last few weeks? My daughter is waiting for her wedding, which was to have been this weekend. Some non-Covid patients have been waiting for treatment for pre-existing medical conditions. Many of us have been waiting to reconnect with families and friends, and all of us have been waiting until we can feel safe again. So why does God make us wait, not just in times of pandemic, but more generally? Why can’t we have what we want right now?
It’s worth noting that for decades we have been living in a culture of what has been called ‘instant gratification’. I can remember in the 1970s two particular TV adverts. One was for Access credit cards, which ‘took the waiting out of wanting’, and the other was for a particular brand of aspirins which were sold on the basis not of how well they got rid of your headache, but how quickly. We feel we have a divine right to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’, and in the process we have lost the art of patient endurance which would have been much more prevalent in previous generations, and which is frequently extolled as a virtue in Scripture. Instead we feel hard done by if we have to wait for anything, whether a train or the latest Amazon delivery.
God seems to live at a different pace. Indeed we’re told that 1000 years are to him just like the blink of an eye, and don’t we know that at times! Why can’t he just deliver? It’s almost as though he thinks that sometimes it can be good for us to wait! My particular brand of Christianity, influenced by charismatic renewal, is particularly bad at this. We’re often accused of triumphalism, and I can understand why. I’m fine with triumph – it’s far preferable to the depressive death-wish of much of the Church. Triumph is promised to us, but triumphalism is wanting our triumph now, rather than later – taking the waiting out of wanting.
Recently I encountered a new worship-song which contained a line something like ‘I’ve got a feeling that this darkness won’t last much longer’. Well good for you, but your feelings are not material with which I can appropriately worship God. Far better is Maggi Dawn’s 1993 song ‘I will wait for your peace to come to me / I’ll sing in the darkness, and I’ll wait without fear.’
Noah’s enforced patience invites me to confront my own impatience, my own desire to extract myself from difficult circumstances. God knew when it would be safe, even if we’re not entirely convinced that our government does, and it is dangerous to run ahead of him. Lord, grant me patience.
PS Our lectionary stops before the amusing irony at the end of the chapter which I can’t help but find tickles me. I can just imagine all the little creatures emerging from their boat trip, so relieved that they have escaped drowning, only to be sacrificed as burnt offerings by Noah!