A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, still under stay-at-home orders.
Since Peter’s letter invites us to remember the story of Noah, let’s imagine ourselves into the Ark, and out of the Ark, emerging to see the first rainbow. Can you imagine what it would be like to see that accident of light for the very first time, blazed across the sky? Can you imagine, having come through a storm that devastated everything familiar, that ended life as you knew it, and deposited you on a mountainside to build a new life out of the debris of the old creation; can you imagine then seeing in the sky something so beautiful, so terrifying, so bright, so inexplicable (if you were Noah)? Would you run towards it, seeking God where it seemed to touch the earth, or would you fall on your face in fear, uncertain what this new sign, this new promise, this new covenant might mean?
Some of you know that the clergy of this diocese met earlier this week with our Presiding Bishop by Zoom. One of the crossbeams of his message to us was that, as much as we hear the phrase, and use it, we are not seeking a new normal on the other side of this pandemic, whatever that might look like and however long it might take. Instead, we, as Christians, Bishop Curry said, are always looking for, always embodying God’s new creation.
Noah wasn’t looking anew for the old world, on the Ark or after the Flood. That ship had sailed.
Paul wasn’t seeking a new normal for his life after the road to Damascus; he preached the new creation of a life in Christ, with Christ, the new life of resurrection.
Jesus was not looking for a new normal when he returned from waking the dead after his resurrection. Nothing was normal. His own disciples both saw him and didn’t recognize him, believed although some doubted, were afraid and full of joy, promised to love him, and feed his lambs, and still sheltered in place, behind locked doors.
I have said a couple of times that one of the best, most serendipitous things I did before our quarantine, not seeing this situation coming, was to adopt our two kittens from the Euclid Pet Pals. They have been a godsend to our lockdown days. Of course, they think they run the Ark.
Last week I had to bring the kittens back to Euclid for their little operations to make sure they couldn’t grow more kittens. Pet owners are advised to keep their patients quiet and calm for a period of convalescence after surgery; try that with a pair of prime young cats. One of the sisters healed beautifully, but I had to bring the other back this week for fresh stitches and a bit of remedial care because she simply will not follow her treatment plan. Even after this latest set of warning signs, she insists on picking at her stitches and has now been rewarded with a cone of shame, for her own protection. Because she wouldn’t follow the rules for recovery the first time around, her healing will take more than twice as long than it should have. And it’s true, and unfair, that her sister broke all the same rules she did and is perfectly healthy; one person’s luck is not a scientific study in what we can get away with.
We all want to reassemble our common life in Christ, to celebrate the Sacraments and to worship together, to see the faces of those whom we love and for whom we pray daily, to work out our salvation together with fear and trembling.
But what if we prepare for that reconstruction not by working out how to work around or set aside the sacrifices that public health and our common good requires of us at this time, but by imagining a whole new creation; not by trying to retrofit the future onto the patterns of normality to which we had become accustomed, but by entering freely into the creative imagination of God?
As Paul has preached,
“The God who made the world and everything in it, the One who rules over heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is God served by human hands, as though God needed anything, since it is God who gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.”
It is true, I am convinced, that God meets us in our buildings, our upturned Arks; in our rites and rituals, in our calendars and feast days, since we are bound by space and time; that God graces us through the Sacraments. This is true; and/but we do not contain God that way, and if God’s grace is uncontained by our construction of normality, then it follows that we, made in God’s image and inspired by God’s Spirit and led by Christ’s example, may also find ourselves called to be not entirely normal. We are a new creation.
New creation is hard work. While Bishop Curry was preaching it, I could almost see it, almost taste it, because he is that good and persuasive a preacher; but even God rested after six days. Creation, finding a new way forward, is exhausting. It’s so tempting to fall back anew into an old normal instead.
But “God waited patiently in the days of Noah,” the first letter of Peter tells us. God is patient as we work out with fear and trembling the path of the Cross set before us, knowing its dangers, knowing, too, that it leads toward life.
When Noah began to build the Ark, its dimensions were beyond his capacity to grasp. As he saw it come together, he must have thought, “This is not normal.”
As the storm hit, and its intensity hit home, and as it showed no signs of letting up, the world must have thought, “This is not normal.”
As the Ark drifted on the surface of creation for months, by biblical account, not for forty days, but forty days followed by one hundred and fifty days followed by a season of gradual abatement of the waters first from the uninhabitable mountain tops and only slowly to a level where a man and his family and somewhere between two and fourteen of every kind of animal in the world might have room to disembark – as life on the Ark stretched from month to month, its inhabitants must have found some sort of routine, some rhythm, some method of accounting for the days and their demands, but God knows, it cannot have felt anything like normal. And what followed, after the tide ebbed, after they all emerged, after Noah built an altar and made his sacrifice to God; what followed was a new creation, the sign of the rainbow in the sky.
There were survivors of the old days, the old ways. Olive trees still grew, doves and ravens still flew, Noah still knew how to make an altar and offer sacrifice. And when God responded, with a whole new creation blazed across his vision, across the sky, did Noah fall on his face, or hide his eyes, or did he look with wonder toward that infinite and creative space between the arc and the earth, filling it with his imaginations of what other new and wonderful things God might have in store for him, and his family, and somewhere between two and fourteen of every living creature on the earth?
Featured image: Noah’s Dankgebet, by Domenico Morelli, Public Domain (detail) via wikimedia commons