Genesis 7–9, Psalm 3, Matthew 3
A few years ago, I asked a group of church leaders to name their favorite story from the Bible. As we went around the table, over half of the people said “Noah’s ark.” Certainly it’s a story rich with visual imagery. Walking through a large hardware store at Christmastime not long ago, I saw an inflatable lawn decoration. It depicted the ark, with some cute animals. Over the ark was a large banner: “Joy!”
Joy? Really? I wonder if people who love the story of Noah and the ark have read the story. It is fundamentally a story about God drowning almost every living creature on earth. Noah and his family would have heard the screams of women, men, and children.
It’s not a very joyous story. And yet this tale of a fresh beginning for God’s creation has ahold on us and our culture. Aside from the potential to inspire fanciful murals, the story concludes with God’s promise to spare humanity this terrible fate in the future. God, it seems, was also horrified by how things turned out.
Most biblical scholars agree that the story of the flood is not history in the sense of scientific fact. Rather, it is a story about God’s care for creation and God’s desire to form a covenant with us. It is a story of meaning that teaches us something about ourselves, our world, and our God.
It is ironic that in the same day we read about water used as a means of death, we also read about John the Baptizer, who used water as a sign of new life. But in both cases, water brings about new beginnings, new life. It cleanses us and our world, making us ready for a fresh start.
Do you think the story of Noah’s Ark is a story of joy? Why or why not?
How would a man such as John the Baptist be received by today’s church? Are his startling words about Jesus relevant today?
Cleanse my heart and my life today, Lord God. Make me ready for fresh starts with each day’s grace. Amen.
-The Rev. Scott Gunn
Executive Director of Forward Movement