The story of Noah and his infamous ark has been a favorite of mine for a long time. There’s a lot going on in that story—far more than meets the eye.
Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, once commented that it seemed strange to him that for the most part we have turned that horrifying story into a toy boat where the roof comes out and you can pull out all the little animals to play with. We tend to forget that the flood in this story was the result of God being fed up with humanity and His desire to start over. That is not a happy story.
That “ark” was a symbol of salvation. The same word is used in the story of baby Moses being rescued from the Nile River in Exodus. And the Christian Church adopted the ark as a symbol for itself. Some of you—who have been involved with one of our confirmation classes over the years—have likely heard me explain to our young people that the sanctuary is patterned after a ship/ark. For instance, there is the “pulpit” which on a ship is that extension over the bow, the area where the congregation sits is called the “nave.” The nave on the old ships was that area deep inside the hull where the slaves would row the boat. And many churches for a very long time featured a ceiling that resembled the keel of a ship.
There is another fascinating aspect to this story—the introduction of the Rainbow. You will remember that the scripture says God set a bow in the sky as a reminder (God has a faulty memory?—or maybe it’s a reminder for us) that He would never again wipe out humanity with a flood. So that Rainbow became a symbol of hope and a symbol of promise.
What most folks don’t know about this story is that the “bow” in the clouds was actually a hunting bow. You see the hunting bow was the primary weapon of death in Noah’s time. God set that “bow” in the clouds as a reminder that God “disarmed” Himself. This divine symbol is not about sweetness and color. Nor is it a sign that God promises a pain-free life. It is, in fact, a sign of the goodness of life in the face of all that life’s pain can bring.
The bow in the clouds is a proclamation that God has chosen us over death.
As we make our way to Holy Week and then to Easter Sunday, we would do well to remember that God has already made a choice of life over death. No reason we should be surprised at what happened on Easter Sunday. God is pretty predictable that way.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.