Bow and arrow

Near the beginning of the Bible is the famous story of the flood. God’s response to the grievous sin in the world is to destroy everything on earth, save Noah, his family, and all the animals on the ark. After the flood waters recede, Noah’s family and the floating zoo emerge on dry land. And then God makes a promise: “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God seals this promise with an everlasting sign in the sky: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Now, where we read rainbow, the original Hebrew only has bow; everywhere else in the Old Testament this word is used, it is used literally as a bow, as in a bow and arrow. The curved arc of a rainbow
is meant to remind us of a the curved arc of a bow. In Bible times, the bow was a deadly weapon of war. A bow struck fear in the hearts of Old Testament people maybe like tanks or machine guns do in people today.

But the rainbow in the sky shows us we no longer have to fear God’s weaponry. The late CRC Pastor John Timmer puts it this way: The rainbow symbolizes that “God has hung up His bow and will never again be provoked to use this weapon against His creation… Never again will there be judgments that annihilate everything.”

Picture this with me: If the rainbow in the sky reminds us of the curve of a bow and arrow, that makes the horizon the string of the bow. If you put an arrow in this bow in the sky, in what direction is the arrow pointing? The arrow is pointed away from the earth and pointed toward heaven, toward God. God is essentially saying,Rainbow and arrow graphic from FeedingOnChrist.com If this weapon ever needs to be used again, it will strike me.

And isn’t that exactly what happened? Thousands of years after Noah hammered nails into the ark, Romans hammered nails into the hands and feet of God in the flesh, Jesus, crucified on the cross. Ultimately, the arrow is aimed at the cross where God takes the curse of our sin and the brokenness of creation on Himself. Jesus is stricken; He suffers and He dies on that cross, taking upon Himself our sin.

Every rainbow reminds us of how instead of bending towards destruction, God’s heart repeatedly, over and over again bends towards grace. God does not give up on His creation. God does not give up on you or me. He comes. He rescues and saves – just like he did with Noah, his family, and all the animals on the ark.

I got the idea to preach a series of messages on Noah and the flood, the ark and the Gospel from my colleague and fellow student at Regent College, Paul Donison, rector and dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Plano, Texas. You can listen to his message on the rainbow here. His entire series about the Gospel in the flood is worth listening to.

Confiding

From time to time I need someone to whom I can confide my deepest thoughts. It is a great blessing to have such a person (wife, family member, friend, co-worker) in my life. It is an equally great blessing when someone confides in me, sharing their secret joys, dreams, disappointments, hurts.

Confiding (com + fidere = with faith) at its heart is a matter of trust. Graphic from Google's definition of ConfideI open my heart only with those I trust. Misunderstanding, rejection, indiscretion are always the risks of confiding. David writes, “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” Solomon writes, “The Lord takes the upright into his confidence.”

Imagine that! When I fear the Lord and live uprightly, he is willing to tell me some (though certainly not all) of his secrets. He risks misunderstanding, rejection, indiscretion on my part.

What does the Lord want to confide to me? The parallel second half of the quote from David above is: “He makes his covenant known to them.” When God makes his covenant known to Abraham, he tells him two secrets: “I will … be your God” and “I will bless you … and you will be a blessing.” Two secrets that Abraham was not to keep to himself, but spread around to others!

Perhaps God’s greatest risk in confiding in me is not that I’ll spill the beans, but that I’ll hoard them!

I very much appreciated the devotional Dale Vander Veen wrote
last week from which this is an excerpt. You can subscribe
to his insightful daily e-devotions by contacting him directly:
dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net.

Invited

Like all good fathers, our heavenly Father seeks to nourish His children. He feeds us with His Word and feeds us with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the Reformed tradition, both the Word and the sacraments remind our brains and prove to our senses (hearing, seeing, tasting) that God is gracious.

This is a reminder and a proof that all God’s children regularly need, which is why I’m personally thrilled the Christian Reformed Church has begun welcoming all baptized members (including children) to the Lord’s table. One could argue that excluding God’s younger children from the Kids feet (picture found via Google)table is akin to excluding family members from Thanksgiving dinner based on their age.

By welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper, I see us correcting two unfortunate double standards that have become part of our tradition. The first is rooted in a faulty division between the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We invite parents to bring their children forward to be baptized not because the children understand or deserve it, but because God has graciously made them part of His covenant family. I love these lines our baptism liturgy:

For you Jesus Christ came into the world;
for you He died; and for you He conquered death.
All this He did for you, little one,
though you know nothing of it as yet.
We love because God first loved us.

It seems inconsistent, then, that we demand a particular level of theological understanding for these same children to partake of the Lord’s Supper – a level they cannot achieve until they are older. Does this not fuel the belief that one ought to be smart enough or worthy enough to partake – a fallacy that those who are in Christ ought to vehemently reject? We all gather around the table on the same basis that we gather around the baptismal font – that, out of sheer grace, our loving heavenly Father includes us in His family and cares for our wellbeing and growth. We gather around the table not because we are worthy, but because we are in Christ, who alone is worthy!

In short, I am sympathetic with the assertion that we’ve either got stop baptizing children or we’ve got to start welcoming them to the table. If our children are part of the family, then let’s make sure they (and we) know it at the table.

The second double standard I see corrected by welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper is rooted in a faulty perception that Word and sacrament are fundamentally different. As I mentioned, God uses both the Word and sacraments to communicate His grace to us. We have no trouble inviting (expecting, even) children to be present at the reading and preaching of the Word, despite the reality that a lot of what is said goes right over their heads. Yet we do not fear any judgment they may face by being listeners but not doers of the Word. We do not wait until children are old enough to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice like adults can before we expose them to the Word. If we welcome our covenant children to hear the Word and receive God’s grace through it, why would we prevent them from approaching the table to receive another means of grace? On the contrary, it is biblical and logical to invite children to be fed by the living Word – not only via the Bible but also Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh, at His table.

Yes, there is indeed something very special about the Lord’s Supper that we cannot lose sight of: Among numerous things, it is a memorial of Christ, evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, a symbol of the unity of the church in all times and places, and a preview of God’s coming Kingdom. But there is also something very ordinary about the Lord’s Supper – we eat and we drink, something we do every day. It’s just as ordinary as listening to the Word. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say: It’s just as extraordinary as listening to the Word. And both are for all God’s covenant children.

I found a couple messages by Pastor Art Verboon of Maranatha CRC Edmonton to be very insightful and helpful in thinking about all this. You can access them here – just scroll down to June 2012 and listen to “This is the Blood of the Covenant” based on Exodus 24 and “Trouble at the Table” based on 1 Corinthians 11.