First Sunday of Lent - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson

When was the last time you saw a rainbow? In spite of the recent mix of rain and sunshine I haven’t seen any in the clouds, but I see rainbows in other places most days


There are thank-you key worker rainbows in house windows, on graffiti, stencilled on pavements and on pin badges all across the city and I suspect all across the country. The rainbow was adopted at the beginning of the pandemic as sign of hope and new life. It’s something we have all needed and continue to do so and the sight of them really raises our spirits.

Then there are the rainbow flags flying above public buildings as throughout February we celebrate LGBT+ History month, honouring the contribution of LGBT+ people in the life of our neighbourhoods, civic and religious life. It’s the opportunity to celebrate and affirm the individual stories, histories and unique contribution of so many who have been hidden for far too long. People like Alan Turing who masterminded breaking the Enigma code, the hundreds of former members of the Armed Forces who have had their medals returned this week, and Dustin Lance Black our neighbour and parishioner.  As a faithful, radical and inclusive Cathedral we celebrate them and countless others.

In our first reading from the book of Genesis we hear of God’s everlasting covenant being established with Noah, his descendants and all living creatures on the face of the earth in the form of a rainbow.  And also with with you and me today. Never again will God bring destruction to creation. In this passage the rainbow contrasts with the chaos of the water and the floods that submerged the globe. The rainbow in Genesis, for key workers and for Pride underlines that whatever the chaos that threatens to engulf us, God is with us on our journey through life and loves humanity more than we can ever imagine.

Water also appears in our gospel reading when Jesus comes to be baptised by John in the River Jordan. St Mark’s gospel is succinct and to the point. There is no padding and one action and episode is very closely followed by the next. The gospel advances at breakneck speed. There is no finesse or detail included; rather simple, bald statements as to what is happening. Both Luke and Matthew take two chapters to outline what Mark condenses into three paragraphs in today’s gospel. John baptizes in the first paragraph and Jesus begins his ministry. Then he goes into the wilderness in the second paragraph. John is arrested in the third paragraph as Jesus proclaims the good news of the kingdom. Inspite of the brevity of the writing, the imagery speaks for itself. It feels like we are back in the book of Genesis with the chaos of the floods and the hope of the rainbow as the ‘heavens are torn apart.’ Here is the thin place where heaven and earth meet and the Son of God submits himself to the baptism of John. In the Jordan God reveals the uniqueness and vocation of Jesus. In the incarnate Son of God ‘the kingdom of God has come near.’ And Jesus’ response is to freely journey into the wilderness to be tested and to be at one with God’s creation.

I wonder what images the wilderness throws up for you? In so many different and various ways the past year of pandemic has felt like a wilderness where all the familiar signposts and landmarks have been removed; where we have had to act and think in very new and unfamiliar ways. People I have spoken to have remarked how much more difficult the current lockdown feels in comparison to the others; that it feels like a journey without end. Hopefully tomorrow we will hear about the government’s road map out of the current situation. I don’t think you are alone in feeling like we are journeying through chaos, through dark clouds and stormy waters. But in all of this, like for Noah and those in the ark, we need to look out for the rainbow – the sign of covenant, of God’s love and abiding presence in the midst of creation and human experience. Rainbows for us might be the selfless dedication of key workers, the outpouring of kindness towards neighbours and strangers, and the desire among many for a new normal. In all of this, God celebrates our destiny as beloved daughters and sons.

It is perhaps natural and easy for us to be so caught up in the pandemic that we ignore or sideline the other crises that we face such as the climate emergency or the ever widening gap between rich and poor, between developed and developing nations. We can feel paralysed by our inability to make a difference, or wanting to ignore our own culpability. This pandemic has underlined the fragility of our world and our interconnectedness in the global village. What we also need to acknowledge is our connection with the natural world and our care and respect for it. In celebrating the impressive roll out of the vaccination programme in the UK we must ensure that the poorer countries, those who can least afford not to be immunised, are given the resources to do just that. We will only be safe when everyone in the world is safe.

At Jesus’ baptism he heard the voice of God saying, ‘you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ At that moment and when Jesus was journeying through the wilderness, God was with him. The same is true for us today and everyday in our own wilderness experience. God continues to make a covenant of love and hope with us and with God’s creation, so that no matter what we experience, God is there with us every step of the journey. God’s rainbow stands as a sign and a reminder of that covenant and that hope.