When I see a rainbow it fills me with hope. I marvel at the colours, the light penetrating and glowing through cloud. In Genesis, God proclaims, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth . . . and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
Of course we continue to experience floods! Whether it’s a rush of water or overwhelming pain and emotion, people can suffer and die in these times of anguish. Suffering is part of life. People experience illness, frustration, abuse, depression or simply a “down” day. But when we seek God, there’s always hope.
The first Sunday of Lent begins a preparation time for those people who will be baptized at Easter. For those of us who are already baptized, it’s a time — 40 days — of contemplation and preparation for renewal of our baptismal promises. The number 40 is an important symbol in the Scriptures: the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. In this 40-day time of contemplation, if we repent, we are cleansed of sin — yet again — by God’s grace.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary says: “Just as Noah was saved by passage through the waters of the flood, so the Christian will be saved by passage through the waters of baptism . . . Noah’s passage, effected in the ark, meant the saving of Noah and his family from the flood; for the Christian, the baptismal passage means eternal salvation and association with the triumph of the Risen Christ.” This mystery of salvation is for all people of all times when they turn to God.
Perhaps each time someone is baptized there appears over them an invisible rainbow! I felt this presence when my children were baptized. And what about people who are never baptized? Angela Alaimo O’Donnell writes in America magazine: “The world in any given moment is, in fact, a sacrament — a revelation of the presence of God — made manifest in the humblest objects . . . Seen in the light of the sacramental imagination, the stories of our lives become invested with meaning and importance, from our first breath to our last.” And she continues, “In the church, sacraments are ceremonies that direct our attention toward the sacred by means of the mundane.”
Baptism and, indeed, all the sacraments, are a mixture of natural and humble items: water, oils, bread and wine. To be baptized is to be washed and healed. The passage from 1 Peter contemplates Noah building the ark to prepare for the flood: “Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with Angels, Authorities, and Powers made subject to him.”
John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. He baptizes Jesus in the river, and immediately Jesus is driven out into the wilderness to be tempted, to suffer. Joseph Vorstermans in Living with Christ writes: “God affirms Jesus and then, without allowing him to enjoy the moment, thrusts him into a harsh place. These are the two extremes of human life, and if we look back over our lives we can all recognize similar moments . . . The hardest challenge in life is to believe that every moment, whether joyful or difficult, is an occasion to deepen our relationship with God and one another.”
John is arrested, and Jesus then begins his public ministry: “. . . Jesus came to Galilea, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ ”
Rev. Rudolph Novecosky, OSB, writes in Homilies for Everyday Life: “For a fruitful Lent we must go into the wilderness, face the wild beasts in our lives and engage our angels. We engage our angels through prayer, self-denial, works of mercy, fasting and almsgiving.”
Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and we are too. We grapple with and are exposed to many temptations in this life. We need to remain humble through all these trials. After all, God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” Even when we’re in the midst of winter, in our minds and hearts we might travel into the desert to ponder the mystery of Jesus, angels and, yes, rainbows.
Rainbows signify hope and fruitfulness. Even one glimpsed rainbow stays in our minds and hearts, encouraging us to follow God’s path in our world through Lent and beyond.
Strachan is married with three grown children and lives in Nakusp, B.C. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.