Lent begins on Ash Wednesday; we admit that. But this first Sunday is when many people become aware of the season. If there are rituals to be adopted, they will often begin today. So, we are on the brink again, or still, or even for the first time, of the journey. That’s why we begin with promise; we begin with covenant.
What is the promise of Genesis 9? More will be explored in the preaching notes, but simply, it is about relationship and about presence. Perhaps you noticed in the overall title for the series that “hearts” is plural, but promise is singular. “Rend Your Hearts: Claiming the Promise.” That was intentional. There is a corporate call to the Lenten journey, as discussed on Ash Wednesday. Bring the whole community together; no excuses are allowed. We are together in this act of rending, of opening ourselves as a whole body to the promise of God. But the promise is singular, and that promise is that God will be in relationship with us.
Of course, you think, there are lots of promises in the Bible. That is true, but the variety of gifts and encouragements and equipping all stem from the singular promise of presence. “Best of all, God is with us,” as John Wesley supposedly said on his deathbed. We can, of course, and should, enumerate some of these manifestations of the promise of presence throughout the series, but here we focus on that simple and profound truth: God is with us; we are not alone.
The symbol of the rainbow is well known throughout the history of the faith. We should not be afraid of using it in worship, even though there are new connotations to that symbol. Be assured that it is a symbol of acceptance and inclusion, of gathering the community together under a common faith. The Lenten call is corporate, remember; it is about gathering together “all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
In fact, our worship could declare not only that “there is the sign” as we point beyond ourselves to the naturally occurring light refracting through the rain and producing an arc of color and light; but that because of that sign and because of that promise, now we are the sign. The church has become the rainbow sign of the presence of God as we seek to gather up the scattered beloved of God into one covenanted community of faith. We are the sign.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.