We come to the final week of the Year A cycle in the Season of Creation. This is supposed to be the “River” week, but we have very little about a river. The lessons include Genesis 8:20-22, 9:12-17, with Noah and the gang getting off the ark and onto dry land as God covenants with them; Matthew 28:1-10, where the women find out that Jesus has been raised and are instructed, by both the angel and the risen Lord, to go and tell; and Revelation 22:1-5, the happy ending in the new city of God, with the river—here it is!—of the water of life running through the middle and the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations—or peoples, depending on your translation—growing on both sides of the river.
As I think about these stories, I find myself thinking about two images. The first has to do with that rainbow, the “bow” God placed in the clouds, according to Genesis, as a reminder of God’s new covenant with humanity: God will never again destroy the earth. For untold ages since, preachers have sermonized about the “bow” being the sort that one would load with an arrow, and how this arrow, given the curve of the bow, would be aimed at God’s own heart. This works very nicely for Christian preachers to read back into this story a prophecy of Jesus crucifixion that ever would have occurred to the Genesis storyteller.
But here’s the thing: we now know that rainbows, when viewed from the sky rather than the ground, are not arches, but circles. The bow, if this sign of the covenant is meant to be weaponry, is pointed in two directions, or even pointed in all directions. God might be prepared to destroy God’s self rather than destroy us again, but we could destroy ourselves and the creation just fine. That’s the nasty thing about free will; God can’t stop us from doing what we will do. We have lived with nuclear weapons for almost eighty years, but the climate-related events of this summer, combined with the rhetoric of some politicians still denying our role or responsibility in climate change, gives such human-caused annihilation a fresh urgency.
You may have thought I forgot the second image in my mind. It’s the 1944 Warner Brothers film “Double Indemnity,” starring Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale, Fred MacMurray—still a couple decades away from playing the loveable dad in “My Three Sons”—as both the mastermind and the dupe of the crime, and Edward G. Robinson, whom we usually expect to be the baddie, as the insurance investigator with a soul. In that film noir, Stanwyck and MacMurray commit a murder for insurance money. MacMurray’s friend, Robinson, working to solve it, explains to Fred that the woman and her unknown-to-Robinson accomplice are stuck together; they can’t let go of each other until the end, which will involve death.
Think about that circular rainbow, pointing at all of us, and remember one of the recurring themes of these reflections: humans, the Creation from which we are made, and God who breathed life into us are all in this together. When God wiped out Creation and almost all of humanity in the flood to erase the corruption caused by the humans, God and the humans were tied together, unable to let go of each other until the end. The bow is pointed at all of us, and any of us could pull the trigger, leading to mutually assured destruction . . . or not.
God’s plan in Jesus Christ is mutually assured salvation instead. We still can’t get away from each other. Jesus is able to overcome death and slip past the stone that sealed the tomb—Matthew reports that the angel moved the stone and scared the guards senseless, but the tomb was already empty—but calls on the women to tell people about it. We’re all in this covenant together; nobody gets left behind. In God’s plan, we’re all there together at the end, including the tree and the river, representing creation. We’re all in it together, right to the end.
So, there is the deal; there is the covenant. God, Creation, and humanity are all on a trolley ride to the end of the line, as the investigator in “Double Indemnity” would say it. The difference is that God has made a new destination possible.
Ah, but there’s that pesky free will! God isn’t calling the shots alone. The ending in Revelation is God’s plan, but as with the Resurrection, God has chosen to be bound to a covenant with us that makes our cooperation necessary. Our growing understanding of climate change makes it clear that, even if it isn’t caused by humans, we have a role in exacerbating it, and we have the power to mitigate it to give ourselves and Creation a chance. Yes, God is sovereign, God could undo whatever we did, but God made a promise to us, and just as God would destroy God’s self rather than break the promise, God will let us destroy everything in order to keep that covenant. God makes salvation possible, but the choice is ours.