It’s A Matter Of Time
(by Rev Paul Graham)
Read Genesis 7:24, 8:1-17
During these last twelve months, I have found two ways of whiling away the hours of my days off and downtime: jigsaw puzzles and model kits. True, both of these activities were not alien to me, but it has been nigh on thirty years since I last built a 1:72nd scale fighter plane, or anything equivalent. And, though jigsaw puzzles have got me through several years of Britain’s Got Talent (I do the puzzle in one room while the rest of the family are entertained by the brightest and best – and strangest and worst – of British variety performances), I haven’t completed them in such volume or regularity as I did during the first lockdown.
I was grateful to the generous local donors who gave jigsaw puzzles for us to distribute to the shielding and/or bored of the local area (along with hundreds of books), as it gave me a chance to choose from beyond my own stocks (predominately and unsurprisingly Doctor Who) as well as loan them out around the community. In fact, there are still a few in church if anyone is interested.
However, I know that the number of hours that go in to putting together a puzzle is nothing like the speed of its dismantling or how quickly the painstakingly painted and glued model aeroplane can be reduced to so much scrap plastic in one over-enthusiastic re-enactment of the Battle of Britain. So much time in the construction lost to mere seconds of destruction.
The link to the story of the flood is almost too obvious to state. So many buildings, so much infrastructure, so many lives lost in such quick order. Forty days of rain is still quite a long time when you’re living through it, but in comparison to the years of work that had gone into building the flawed communities that were rapidly disappearing beneath the floodwaters, it was a mere blink of an eye.
But finally, the rain ceased to fall, the clouds broke, and the sun shone down on a giant lake, with not even the highest mountain peaks breaking up the surface. Noah and his family were in the ark, waiting to see what would happen.
And this is where we come to a part of the story that often gets overlooked, particularly in the Sunday School lessons of my youth. We run the risk of moving too quickly from the end of the rainfall to the end of the story, but that’s not at all what we read.
For example, we know from the story that Noah and his family spent a further five months bobbing about in the ark before the water had receded enough for it to finally come to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:3-4). But that was still not enough time for them to think about disembarking, as it was a further 2 months until their resting place finally became visible and the highest of the mountain peaks reappeared.
Noah again waited before starting to send his avian scouts from the ark’s window, firstly a raven, then a dove. It was only when the dove was sent out but didn’t return that he finally began to make plans to leave the ark.
In all, the story of the flood covers just over a year of Noah’s (admittedly very long) life. Forty days of rain were followed by 11 months of recovery as the waters finally receded and dry land was restored.
I think that you can probably work out where we can see further parallels to today in this story.
Though we don’t have flooding as our current national (or international) disaster, we certainly have seen disruption through this pandemic on a scale few of us will have experienced before. We have had very nearly a year of lockdown rules, restrictions to our travelling, suffering and loss in so many different ways.
We have learned so much in these past few months: the value of people who have been on the frontline of care, support and keeping things moving; how to embrace technology in ways we didn’t think possible to remain connected; what loving our neighbour can really look like; and so much more.
Maybe one lesson we haven’t learned though is one that Noah understood: the art of patience. It would no doubt have been tempting for him to have declared at the first sight of land, or at the delivery of an olive leaf that the world was worth stepping back onto. If the mountain tops were visible or olive groves were dry, then surely the ground would be ready to receive his family and their cargo. But no, he opts to wait longer to make sure that he doesn’t rush. Who knows what pitfalls might befall him and the precious animals if they ventured out too soon? It would have been an ultimate tragedy if they had survived the rainfall and months cooped up together in the ark just to fall foul of one of the many hazards that could still be lingering as the water soaked away.
For Noah, patience was indeed a virtue. But it was a virtue that he prepared himself for. It is telling, for example, that we are told that he opened the window some weeks after the ark came to rest (Genesis 8:6); maybe he decided that it was better not to be continually watching out for signs of land in case it encouraged him to be impatient.
I wonder if this pandemic has shown how impatient we are as a species. As soon as there was the first sniff of freedom (such as last summer’s easing of restrictions) the beaches were heaving, the parks were crowded, and people suddenly seemed to forget there was such a thing as Coronavirus. And then, unsurprisingly, we had a spike in infections, and everything had to close down again, and then again.
Let’s see what happens as we navigate the current “roadmap”; are we going to be less gung-ho in our response? Are we going to be more measured in where we go, who we meet with and when? And this is true for us in every sphere of our lives: as individuals, families, communities, and church.
But of course, I am in no position to tell you how you respond with family and friends, particularly as there are many of us who haven’t been in the same room as our relatives for a year or more. However, we can certainly be guided by Noah’s example for the church and how we reopen the building and reconfigure our worship, mission and ministry as we travel along the map.
Just as we can destroy model kits or dismantle jigsaw puzzles in seconds, we need to take the time to build them and fit them together, to create the finished work as it was designed and intended. Maybe we should be learning the lesson of Noah not to rush our reconstruction of “normality”, but to allow time to pass before we as a church are invited by God to step out into the world to be the people he wants us to be, doing the things he wants us to do (Genesis 8:15-17).