We’ve had a rash of rainbows over the past few months – everywhere you go they’re there. They have stood for hope, even when there was very little of it about. Perhaps there is hope on the horizon now: hope for NHS and other front line staff, for elderly people, especially those in care homes, and for those of us who have survived the pandemic – the hope for normality to return. For those who have lost loved ones, in very difficult times and circumstances, there will still be dark days ahead. In Noah’s story, the righteous humans are saved, while the wicked perish in the waters of the flood. Covid has not been so discriminating – all sorts of people have lost their lives. The global death toll is unimaginable – an estimated 2 ½ million people.
The legend of Ark has become a metaphor for the protection of the natural world: two of each animal were saved – God’s intention wasn’t to destroy the creation. And there was the rainbow promise that God wouldn’t flood and destroy the world again. That promise is perhaps unnecessary now as we humans are destroying the earth without divine help. There are now over a million plant and animal species in danger of extinction including a third of marine mammals and 10 percent of insect species. Things have almost disappeared in our lifetime – when did you last see a hedgehog – even a dead one on the road?
It’s thought that the pandemic arose in the first place by destruction of forests which put wild animals in closer touch with humans. In many ways we seem to be cutting off the branch we’re sitting on -already we know that bees are struggling which leaves us in danger of crop failure due to lack of pollinators. And yet our government has just licensed the use of a pesticide which is known to kill bees.
If the pandemic was caused by environmental destruction, it is equally true that, in the UK at least, lockdown has given us the opportunity to be involved with the natural world again. Across the country people have started gardening, putting up nest boxes and bug hotels, enjoying walks, birdwatching – the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch had 80% more submissions this year. In terms of ecology gardens have become a really important habitat – individually they may be small, but collectively they cover large areas.
I think most of us here in Knuzden have gardens. How’s yours? Take a look out of the window. Is it a concrete desert, or even a green desert? Are there flowers for pollen and nectar? Are there places for insects to hide – maybe even a hedgehog hole in the fence? Bird Boxes? We really need to escape from the tyranny of ‘tidiness’ in our gardens – especially a tidiness that comes on the back of pesticides and weedkiller! Each of us could make a difference here – even if it’s only a small one. Even letting a bit of your lawn grow long, or growing some wild flowers in a pot help. If we believe that this is God’s world, that God is the creative force behind it and sustaining it, then we must act.
Today’s readings also tell of human suffering and temptation, and Lent is the time when we think about ‘taking up the cross and following Jesus’. In the Gospel we hear of Jesus’ struggle with temptation in the wilderness. In 1 Peter we hear of his crucifixion and death.
There are many who are acquainted with suffering – this might be you, or perhaps friends and relatives. Christianity is strange in having such suffering at its heart – people seeking something spiritual are often seeking something pain-free. It’s easy for us to believe that the betrayal of Maundy Thursday and the pain of Good Friday are somehow cancelled out by Easter Sunday – resurrection. But the suffering still happened – it left its mark (literally) on Jesus, and suffering marks and scars people still.
For us as Christians, God entered the world and became a damaged and broken One. This should at the very least, lead us to be kind to those who suffer. It’s a common experience of people who are ill, to notice people crossing the road to avoid talking to them. Sometimes we don’t know what to say: Hi! How are things’ is a good start. But I think this embarrassment also stems from our failure to look with honesty at our own scars – we are more than capable of crossing the road to avoid these too. We need also to be particularly aware of prejudice against people with mental illness: there is still the common belief that it’s a weakness of character, or even laziness. Remember, Jesus’ suffering in the desert is recounted as a mental struggle, and the story of the crucifixion speaks of mental as well as physical anguish.
Easter brings us hope that there can be healing: the light is not extinguished, the powers of death are overcome. In the end, all shall be well. But the resurrection wasn’t a simple affair for Jesus’ followers and friends – they mistook him for someone else, failed to recognise him, refused to believe, or simply found nothing – just an empty tomb where the body should have been. In the same way, our own resurrection, our healing, can be painfully slow: we take time to heal and can dwell in shadows for a long time if we’ve been wounded by life.
Lent is a good time to face up to our hurt, the ways in which we are each damaged or broken. An honesty about these things in God’s presence is a step on the way to healing. Even Jesus has scars, still – and we are, most of us, like him. We too may always carry them – literally or metaphorically: in time they become a beautiful part of who we are.