Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Noah, Row the Boat Ashore!

Well, as we follow the narrative of the Book of Genesis things turn from bad to worse!   Cain heads off and starts his own lineage and they get up to all sorts of devilment; the virtuous Enoch lives a holy life and is taken up to God, and Seth fathers a line of righteous people.  However, human beings, now marked with original sin, soon let things get out of control and before you know it things are chaotic as they live lives that would make an Amsterdam madame blush.   Time to start again, says God. 

The story of the flood is very curious.  Unfortunate for those scholars who like to dismiss a literal reading of Scripture, seeing even the miracles of Jesus, and with some his Resurrection, not as real historical events but as symbolic stories, the story of the flood defies, to a point, such an interpretation. Numerous religious traditions and legends of Mesopotemia preserve stories of a major flood which took place at some point in history.  The famous ancient poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, records a flood not unlike the story we are reading here today.   So the story of Noah and the flood cannot be dismissed.    Whatever that primeval event was, the meaning is clear: God seeks to bring about a new creation. 

Noah was a righteous man, he has found favour in God's sight, and so he is to become another Adam: the human race will begin again with him; he also foreshadows Christ.  Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives will be preserved, and with them representatives of the animals of the world - seven pairs of every clean animal, two pairs of every unclean animal (anticipating the distinction of the Law of Moses).   These survivors are to find refuge in an ark - a large boat.  Note the symbolism of wood throughout the story of the fall and redemption: the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the wooden ark, the Cross of Christ.  The waters will sweep across the world, wiping out sinful humanity and an agent in the bringing about the new creation.  Here, scholars tell us, we see a foreshadowing of baptism where humanity is renewed in the holy waters of regeneration.   So humanity is saved, reborn, through wood and water - the Cross and the waters of baptism.

All of this should give us great confidence.  As we look out onto the world we might think that another flood is badly needed.  Well, not so.  The story of Noah, his ark and the flood remind us that God has the power to overcome even the greatest evil, to save the righteous and to transform all situations.  We should never lose faith in God even when his own ministers fail.   This story, understood in its symbolic significance, should also bring us back to reflect on our baptism and what it means. 

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