During Epiphany the Church has a focus on journeying. In Lent we are encouraged to STOP! Take a break. Have a rest. Metaphorically put down your bags and take off your shoes and sit down for a while. That’s a really nice moment in any journey isn’t it??
You may have heard me recount this cultural anecdote before that the sherpas in Nepal, who spend a lot of time encouraging, pushing and pacing their climbers toward the summit, will sometimes just stop climbing and put down their equipment, as if they’re waiting for something or someone. Not surprisingly, this seemingly random break is very disconcerting for many Westerners. When they ask why they’ve stopped climbing, the sherpas’ reply is “We are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.” In Lent God invites us to be like the sherpa—to take in the view, to allow our racing minds and bodies to rest, and to respect the wise pace of our soul as it catches up.
And lest we imagine this is to give in to a weakness or unwanted slowness like those Western climbers frustrated with the sherpa’s waiting we might want to recall that the God we call all powerful and from whom the energy of all creation has sprung … took a rest on the Sabbath.
Lent is an invitation to rest that we are missing in the modern world. We are not often encouraged to have a rest and put our feet up. But it is so important to build in times of recovery in your life. Times of recovery and times of preparation will determine whether you are able to complete your journey safely and in one piece. Lent is a time to recover from the last leg of the journey and to look forward to the horizon of Easter and how we might approach that message and moment.
I should turn briefly to the passages of scripture for today to see if we can find inspiration for our Lenten rest.
Whilst the Noah passage is a challenge when thought about in Sunday school terms .. what I mean is that we might find it difficult in the modern world not to conflate the story of God’s giving the rainbow as a sign to Noah with the story of the Leprechaun and the the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But we need not dismiss the Bible story because of it’s mythical flavour. Myths have great truths within them.
In fact what the story of Noah and his sons seeing the rainbow reminds us of is the deep power of those Lenten moments where we stop and look and listen. Noah has survived a flood through years of preparation and hard work in the face of disdain from his community and neighbours. There is little doubt there was some kind of flood in the ancient world as most accounts of that time mention a flood story across cultural and religious communities. And having survived Noah stops, sees the beauty of the world around him and the possibilities of a better future .. and he feels God is with him on the journey. Perhaps when you stop to see a rainbow you might sense the presence if someone or something more powerful than you smiling down and offering you hope? This remains the true message behind the myth. But you need like Noah to stop and wonder!
The language the Bible uses is that there is a covenant between us and our Creator not to destroy us but to give us life and a future .. even beyond death. This is the significance of the passage in Genesis .. after the devastation of the flood .. after what the Psalmist says is the waves of death overwhelming us .. we find ourselves with God looking at the rainbow of new life and hope!
It is perhaps a message we are also able to see in Jesus time in the wilderness. Perhaps the wilderness and the flood are one and the same metaphor for us. A time of struggle and temptation to give up hope. A time where all life and hope and companionship seems gone. Drowned or starved by the nature of the world in which we make our journey. But at the end of Jesus time in the wilderness the angels attend to Him and the Kingdom of God is announced as being near. A new kingdom .. a new hope .. there could even have been a rainbow somewhere in this moment of triumph and restoration. You can see the parallels. That though we sometimes walk through the valley of the shadow of death .. we need not fear for ahead of us is a rainbow of hope.
This Lent the invitation is to acknowledge the flood and wilderness times we sometimes walk through and accept the invitation to stop, put down the heavy bags you have been laden with on this journey, take of your shoes now heavy and scuffed, sit and when you have caught your breath look up for a sign of hope and salvation. This is all part of our journey and it is an important season if we are to make our pilgrimage safely to the kingdom that awaits us. An Easter kingdom made meaningful by the seasons that go before it.