A Reading from the Book of Genesis (9:8-17)
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “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. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
(Psalm refrain to be sung by soloist and repeated by all)
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
A Reading from the First Letter of Peter (3:18-22)
Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:9-15)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In 1816, Italian archaeologist and adventurer, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, removed, from an Egyptian mortuary temple in Thebes, the head and torso of an ancient statue, made in the likeness of Pharaoh Rameses II. This fragment of the original sculpture weighs over 7 tons. With great effort, he managed to transport it to the Nile and eventually sold it and shipped it to the British Museum in London.
In anticipation of its arrival, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote his poem “Ozymandias,” using the throne name of Rameses. In its 14 lines, this sonnet describes the arrogance of the ancient emperor as he boasts:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
This enormous statue was one of Ozymandias’ attempts to assert his power and grandeur and to ensure that he and his greatness would never be forgotten.
But Shelley contrasts that boast and its intent with the fact that all that remains of the once immense and imposing sculpture are “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone [that] stand in the desert.” And the once mighty emperor whom it was meant to immortalize is largely forgotten. Sic transit gloria mundi.
While only a relatively small group of megalomaniacs throughout history have tried to ensure their memory in such a monumental way, all people, it seems, possess an inner desire that they not be forgotten. That longing tends to come to the fore when they face a serious injury or illness or when they reflect on the coming of old age and the inevitable end of their lives. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The most natural and universal way of ensuring that people will not be forgotten is through their children and grandchildren; parents, in a sense, live on through them. Other people try to ensure their memory by erecting, or planning for, physical monuments to themselves; just think of the various halls on university campuses, most of them bearing the name of the benefactor who endowed them; or take a walk (obviously when the weather gets warmer) through a large, old cemetery and read the inscriptions on some of the grand monuments. Still others try to safeguard their memory through organizations or programs or other public initiatives that they helped to establish. But ultimately, all things pass, and memories fade, and even the most grandiose of monuments, like a colossal statue in the Egyptian desert, lies in ruins.
Are we all then destined to be forgotten – to be like the grass of the field, which flourishes only for a brief time but then fades and withers? To that question, today’s first reading answers a resounding “No!”
The story of Noah and the Flood appears to be based on other, much more ancient flood stories from other Near Eastern cultures. But Israel’s version is different from the rest: it carries a moral dimension, and it concludes with a solemn affirmation from Israel’s God, “Never again.” Those words are repeated three times in today’s passage. Here is a new beginning for all creation.
That beginning actually starts one chapter earlier. God, in his anger, has destroyed almost the entire earth and everything that lives on it. But then, in chapter 8, verse 1, God reverses course: “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.” “God remembered”: that is the source of hope and life for all creation for all time. That remembering of God reaches its culmination in today’s reading when God takes his bow, his weapon of death and destruction, and literally hangs it up, putting it in the sky as a reminder so that God will never forget God’s covenant, God’s solemn promise, for us and for all creation.
Walter Brueggemann (Genesis, page 85) describes the transformation this way: “In this narrative, the whole creation comes to that time of being forgotten by God as the waters surge. But the gospel of this God is that he remembers. The only things the waters of chaos and death do not cut through (though they cut through everything else) is the commitment of God to creation. His remembering is an act of gracious engagement with his covenant partner, an act of committed compassion. It asserts that God is not preoccupied with himself but with his covenant partner, creation. It is the remembering of God, and only that, which gives hope and makes life possible.”
The second part of the Book of Isaiah (49:15), speaking in the name of God, asks: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” It is in the eternal faithfulness of God that we have the assurance that we will never be forgotten. For although what we do in life will eventually fade from people’s memory and even the greatest of physical monuments will eventually fall to ruin, God always remembers us. Not only won’t we be forgotten, but, as Paul Tillich declared: “we cannot [emphasis added] be forgotten because we are known eternally, beyond past and future” (The Eternal Now, page 25).
All things in this world come and go. Nothing, not even the greatest of monuments, last forever. All will eventually fade away. But we will never be forgotten, for we are always in the mind and the heart and the hands of God. And I cannot imagine a better place to be.