During Lent this year the lectionary readings from the Hebrew scriptures take the church week by week through covenants in our holy history. This Sunday the church offers us consideration of the rainbow-sign of the covenant with Noah. It is worth taking time with patristic and medieval typologies of the Ark itself: the Church is the Ark. Lent is the Ark. Wisdom is the Ark. Even our heart is the Ark – a place of safety and yet a place of transformation. Enclosed and tossed upon turbulent seas of sin and chaos and culture, these 40 days of Lent give us a time of growing, transformation, renewing our lives from the core of our hearts. Thus, we emerge from Lent and Holy Week to face again the uncreated Light of the Resurrection, the shadow of which we observed at the Transfiguration.
But we have to prepare rigorously to meet this new Light. And so we make our way into the desert, or seal ourselves up into the ark to practice a 40 day "Night of Purification" in this Season of the Soul.
The Tempation of Jesus, Duccio, 1308-11, The Frick Collection
Even as a very young child, the story of eight worthy people floating safely above a deluge destroying life and humanity disturbed me.What I sensed of God did not seem consonant with purposeful destruction. I love the way the wandering rabbis in the Zohar solve this problem.
How did the Blessed Holy One respond when Noah came out of the ark and saw the whole world destroyed and began to cry over the holocaust?Noah said, "Master of the world, You are called Compassionate!You should have shown compassion for Your creatures!"The Blessed Holy One answered him, "Foolish shepherd! Now you say this, but not when I spoke to you tenderly, saying 'Make yourself an ark of gopher wood ... As for Me, I am about to bring the Flood ... to destroy all flesh' ... I lingered with you spoke to you at length so that you would ask for mercy for the world!But as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart.You built the ark and saved yourself.Now that the world has been destroyed you open your mouth to utter questions and pleas?"
The rabbis discuss how both Abraham (Genesis 18:20-23) and Moses (Exodus 32:8,11,32) argued, cajoled, and bargained with God, thus saving the men and women of their generations.
And Noah? The Blessed Holy One lingered with him and spoke many words to him; perhaps he would ask for mercy for his generation.But he did not care and did not ask for mercy.He just built the ark and the whole world was destroyed.
Zohar, Daniel Chanan Matt, translator, Paulist Press edition pp.58-9