The Rainbow: It’s a thing of beauty and mystery, hanging in the sky after a rainstorm. It’s an amalgam of science and art, poetry and literature and superstition….
But the Rainbow’s reputation has certainly taken a beating in the last generation!
In the late 1960s, the Rainbow became a symbol of “What’s Happening Now” — adorning hippies’ tie-dyed shirts at the “Three Days of Peace and Music” at Woodstock.
Nine years later, San Francisco gay activist Gilbert Baker stitched brightly colored fabric to produce the first “Rainbow Flag” representing the gay rights movement. That striped flag — in fact, the rainbow in any form — has since become a worldwide symbol of LGBT equality and the push toward normalization of homosexual relationships.
And not only flags: The multi-colored stripes have taken over t-shirts, keychains, jewelry, candles, even wedding cakes and, in June 2015, the Obama White House.
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But let this be known: Before the Rainbow was a cliche, co-opted to symbolize illicit sexual expression — before Gil Baker dragged his rainbow flag down San Francisco’s Market Street — the Rainbow belonged to God.
It is God, after all, who causes the meteorological phenomenon by which light is reflected, refracted and dispersed in water droplets, resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It’s God who hangs the colorful arch in the skies following a storm, tickling the imagination and luring photographers.
In today’s First Reading for the First Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of the significance of the rainbow in God’s design. You remember the story from Genesis 9: God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants, after they debark from the ark. God promises never to destroy the earth by floodwaters. “Never again,” God promises,
“…shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
And God offered a sign, the Rainbow, as a symbol of his faithfulness. He added,
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”
What would be required of Noah and his descendants? How should they respond to God’s loving promise?
Just before his promise of the Rainbow in Genesis 9, God lays out the requirements of the Noahite covenant in Genesis 1-7:
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
In a nutshell, God asks this:
- Be fruitful and multiply.
- Don’t kill (or else suffer God’s wrath).
- Be fruitful and multiply.
One can’t help but notice that the very acts which are celebrated under the Rainbow Flag — the sterile union of two men or two women — are acts which thwart the command of God, making “fruitfulness” impossible. Those who march under the Rainbow Flag are celebrating their disobedience to their Creator.
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When my children were young, I had a recipe for “Rainbow Cookies.” The sugar cookies — made with store-bought dough that was divided into four bowls, colored with food coloring and pressed together into a rainbow log, then cut into individual rainbows before baking — were a favorite treat for the kids and their friends. We ate them enthusiastically, with no thought to the rebellious LGBT marches that were beginning to take over our nation’s cities. We talked about Noah, and about God’s love.
Today at Mass, we contemplated the Rainbow with that same innocence.