You've probably never heard a sermon about the rainbow. You probably learned the colors in order as a child, “ROY G. BIV”. And maybe you've seen it throughout your life decorating everything from hot air balloons to scratch-n-sniff stickers. Dorothy traveled “somewhere over the rainbow”. And folk legends say that leprechauns and their pots of gold await at the rainbow's end.
Sadly, today the rainbow has been assumed as a symbol of something that is at odds with God. It has become the symbol of pride in a lifestyle that turns God's created order on its head. But we should not let this beautiful and precious symbol of God's promise go unused by us for that reason. It's is, first of all, God's symbol.
Genesis 9 takes us to the day just after the flood of Noah, when God made a covenant with the ark-builder and his sons. A one-way deal, really, more like a promise. “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”.
The world had become wicked. Genesis tells us the thoughts of man's heart were “only evil all the time”. One can only imagine what that means. I suspect it was a time of lawlessness and rebellion, a chaos that we can't entirely imagine. Perhaps an entire world of false worship, violence, and smut of the worst kind. Imagine Sodom and Gamorrah on steroids, everywhere. God is patient. He is slow to anger. What great evil must it have taken to actually grieve God that he had created man in the first place?
So he cleansed this wickedness, quite literally, by washing it all away. He sent a massive world-wide flood to set the clock back, and start afresh. And he wiped out all of mankind, and he did so justly. None survived the devastation but Noah and his family, that is, his three sons and all four wives. Eight souls in all.
God made war on mankind, you could say. He unleashed the fury of his creation against them. He opened the windows of the sky and the fountains of the deep. His destruction spanned the entire earth, so broad was the scope.
But now, the flood is receding. The rain stopped, the ground is drying. The slate is clean and Noah and his family are safe, ready to begin anew populating the world. The warfare of the flood is over. God sets down his bow – his weapon of war. And it's peaceful colors span the entire sky, just as his promise to never bring a world-wide flood again span all time. The face of God's anger has now turned, and he shows mercy.
The same God of both justice and mercy is our God. The same God who hated the wickedness of the world, and destroyed it, showed mercy to faithful Noah and his family, and brought them through the worst of it. The same God who brought both bad news for sinners, also brings good news for believers in his promise, through Christ.
Jesus Christ, who calms storms and walks on water. Jesus Christ, the living word, agent of God's creation, who divided sky from water on day 2, and land from water on day 3. Jesus Christ, who was baptized in the Jordan for us, turned water into wine, washed his disciples feet. As he thirsted for our salvation, he faced death on the cross, and from his pierced side came blood and water. From him springs forth the water of life, which quenches our thirst forever. Jesus Christ, in whom we are baptized, buried into death and raised to new life.
The flood of Noah, which drowned sinful humanity, pointed to the blessed flood of Holy Baptism, which drowns our sinful nature, our Old Adam. Perhaps you are familiar with this connection because of the “flood prayer” of Martin Luther, which is now included in our baptismal rite.
It's true, we need cleansing. Your sin – my sin, is just as damnable as the sin of the wicked world before the great flood. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin by our actions and inactions. We trample the commandments. We despise God and hate our neighbor. We fail to do what we ought, and we do what we ought not do. We are, of ourselves, only evil all the time. The Old Adam in us is brought forth in his father's image, a shattered image smeared with the muck of sin. Our need for cleansing, body and soul, the same. Only let us, in faith, find refuge in the blood of Christ and in our baptism, and in the mercy of the one who has set down his bow.
God will never destroy the world again with a flood. But this world will end, as Jesus warns, and it will happen soon. The ancient church fathers used the rainbow as a reminder of this warning, as the colors move from blue to red, so too the destruction of water is behind us, but the coming destruction by fire is ahead. This world will melt away. Fire will consume the wicked, when God's righteous judgment is unleashed once more on that day.
But as Noah and his family were preserved, so too will Christ preserve us on that day. For those who belong to him, whose hope is in him, there is nothing to fear from any disaster, calamity, or even the end of the world. Christ is always with us, always over us, always for us.
His cross stands as the symbol of his promise for us, that the warfare is over. This instrument of death has become our source of life. A symbol even more beautiful than the rainbow. A promise more expansive and long-standing. Never again will our sins stand against us. Never again will God hold us accountable, for Christ has paid the account in full. Never again need we fear the wrath of God, for Jesus has spoken. It is finished.
Whatever clouds gather on your horizon, whatever rain and storm mark your life in these days, whatever flood waters threaten to overwhelm you.... remember the rainbow, and the promise of God's mercy. Remember your baptism, which cleanses you and connects you to Christ. And remember his cross, where eternal promises are rooted, and where divine blood was shed to seal you in them forever. And remember him as you receive his true body and blood this day, for your forgiveness and salvation.