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October 5, 2008

The Bread, the Cup, and the Rainbow

Genesis 9:12-17


            Let me invite you to turn to Genesis 9 in your Bible.  In our series entitled Our Family Tree, we have been considering the characters included in the book of Genesis.  Last week, we reflected on Noah; and I promised you that this week we would come back to the conclusion of that story.  Follow along as I read Genesis 9, beginning at Verse 12.  Hear now the Word of God for the people of God.


And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”



            As I was preparing for this message, I found a very interesting document written by a Hassidic rabbi.  I have no idea the age of this document, but my impression is that it is quite old.  The Hassidic branch of the rabbis is often quite mystical.  They celebrate life, believing that joy is certainly a part of their faith in God.  As I read this document, I was impressed that this rabbi’s beliefs about Noah and the sign of the rainbow sounded very similar to what Christians say about the Lord’s Supper.  A connection exists between the elements of the Lord’s Supper – the bread and the cup – with Noah’s rainbow.             

The rabbi made several points I would like to share with you this morning.  First, he views the flood as God’s intention to have an act of purification.  God was interested in cleansing the world of sin, and the flood was sent to destroy that sin.  Of course, we know that at best the flood was a temporary solution.  It did not take long for sin to return, even in Noah’s family. 

This rabbi also connects the story of Noah with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day that will be observed in the week ahead by our Jewish neighbors and friends.  The rabbi made a connection between the cloud from which the rainbow comes and the cloud of smoke, the incense, of Yom Kippur.  He said that in the Jewish mind, the rainbow represented an act of repentance.  God had made a covenant with His people, and their response was to repent of their sins. I must tell you that when I see a rainbow, I rarely think of repentance.

            The colors of the rainbow correspond to God’s primary attributes:  kindness, judgment, and mercy.  The prophet Isaiah said that he would erase the sin of the world as with a cloud (Isaiah 44:22). Purity, the purifying power of God, is one of the meanings of Noah’s rainbow.  That certainly is a part of the Lord’s Supper.  We often come to this supper, and we have a sense of self-examination, a sense of repenting from our sins as we take these elements.

            The second point the rabbi made is that Noah’s covenant with God was really the first covenant.  Of course, throughout the Old Testament, we see that the covenant was renewed repeatedly, as in the instances of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua at Shechem.    Certainly the Lord’s Supper is a time of renewing the covenant for us.  We remember the words of Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20).  When we take these elements, we are renewing our own personal covenant with God. 

            Third, the rabbi said that the rainbow is a sign of God’s glory.  I have seen some glorious rainbows in my life.  When I was seventeen years old, I was in central Africa.  I saw the most magnificent rainbow I had seen up that point over Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.  On a trip to the Holy Land, I saw a rainbow, stretching from the top of Mount Carmel down to the Mediterranean Sea.  On another trip to the Holy Land, a rainbow stretched from the Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee.  While I was leading the graveside service of my friend Ron Wells, Dr. Alistair Walker interrupted me and said, “Look, Kirk!”  We all saw a beautiful rainbow over Greenlawn Cemetery.  Those of us attending the funeral for Ray Cash saw a similar expression of God’s glory in the full rainbow, from horizon to horizon, that reached over Greenlawn cemetery.  The rainbow is a symbol of hope and a symbol of God’s covenant.  Certainly it is a manifestation of God’s glory. 

The rabbi’s fourth point was that the rainbow is a bridge that arches from heaven to earth.  A Hassidic saying is, “Do not expect the footsteps of the Messiah until you see a rainbow shining with bright colors.”  When you see people turning in repentance, you can look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  In the Hassidic mind, the rainbow was a like a path from heaven to earth, a roadway on which the Messiah would travel.  Of course, we believe that the Messiah has come in Jesus Christ and that he will return.  That interpretation gives the rainbow a richer meaning.  Certainly the elements of this table represent a bridge between heaven and earth.  The simple elements of bread and grape juice remind us in a very simple way that God has reached out and touched this earth.  He did that through His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. 

I remember even as a little boy thinking of Noah every time I saw a rainbow.  You have probably had the same experience.  The scientific explanation for a rainbow is pretty simple.  Droplets of water become little prisms through which light is refracted and these colors appear.  The mechanics of a rainbow do not make the impression.  It is the beauty.  Seeing a rainbow evokes a memory.  We remember the covenant that God made with Noah.  We anticipate the coming of the Messiah again as Christians.  The coming of the Messiah for the Jewish community, the Hassidic community, was represented by the rainbow.  They recalled the words of Daniel, that the Messiah would come with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13).  We have almost a direct quote of that passage when we read about the ascension of Jesus. 

This Table is a special place.  This is where we encounter the living Christ.  Jesus gave us this meal so that we could remember, not just the covenant that he made so many times before, but also this new covenant he made in his blood.  We come to this table to worship him.  We come knowing that this is a time for self examination, a time for us to understand that God wants to cleanse our hearts from sin.  He wants to seal in us an act of rededication.  I invite you, as we approach this table, to examine your own life.   Consider what God would have you do, what decision He might have you make.  Come to this table with a sense of humility.

Who may take of these elements?  Any person who acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord may participate in this supper.  This is not Morningside’s table.  This is not a Baptist table.  This is the Lord’s Table.  If you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, you are invited to participate in this supper.  Let us take the supper together.

Scripture says that on the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” 

Let us have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Dear Heavenly Father, as we take this bread, which represents Your body that was broken on Calvary, may we never forget the sacrifice You made for each and every one of us.  Lord, we thank You for Your love and for Your saving grace.  Lord, we love You.  Right here and now, we recommit ourselves to You.  Take us and use us, Lord, to do Your will, not ours.  Keep us from temptation.  Deliver us from the evil one.  It is in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior, that we pray.  Amen.

Scriptures say that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.  This is where we draw near to God.  “There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God, A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God.  There is a place of comfort sweet, Near to the heart of God, A place where we our Savior meet, Near to the heart of God.”

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.”  Eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him.  Eat ye all of it.

Let us have a prayer of blessing for the cup.

Dear Lord, as we take this cup, representing your Son’s blood spilled for us, keep us mindful that this was a manifestation of your infinite grace, grace that was bestowed on all of us.  None of us are worthy of it, but you give it anyway.  Your love for us is beyond our comprehension.  As we take this cup today, let us feel Your love.  May we spread Your love throughout this world.  We ask these things in the name of Your risen Son.  Amen.

“There is a place of full release, Near to the heart of God, A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God.  O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God, Hold us who wait before Thee Near to the heart of God.”

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it, in remembrance of him.  Drink ye all of it.


Kirk H. Neely

© October 2008

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