First Sunday in Lent, Year B
God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time. (O Mary, Don’t You Weep)
The reading from Genesis (Genesis 9:8-17) today tells about the covenant between God and “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth”. God promises that never again will there be flood to destroy the earth.
The spiritual O Mary, Don’t You Weep is for the most part about hope; just as the waters drowned Pharoah’s army, ensuring the escape from slavery of the Hebrew people, so “there’ll be good times by and by” for others suffering oppression. One puzzling verse is the one about Noah: while the rest of the song celebrates God’s use of water to drown the oppressors, this verse remembers God’s promise not to send another flood that covers the earth, but then says “Next time it will be fire!” It suggests that we not take the promise of this covenant to mean that nothing can harm the earth. In the context of giving hope to oppressed people, it suggests that we remain aware of dangers and not get lulled into false security.
Here's Bruce Springsteen's version of O Mary, Don't You Weep:
Others have discussed “the fire next time” in light of the climate crisis. A piece by The Rev. Peter G. Kreitler, The Spirituality of Global Warming, talks about both the severity of the global warming crisis and the place of hope in the response of people of faith to the crisis. He writes:
The fire this time, our warming fragile island home, is our religious and moral wakeup call; Noah's generation heard and felt the fury of rising waters. Today the heat on the earth is bending the established rules of nature and the winds and the waves are compromising the integrity of creation; yet the arc of the rainbow can still be seen to offer us hope amidst the fury of nature's wrath.
The fire next time isnow: Environmental historian Angus Wright’s call for a planetary patriotism is Robert Jensen’s interview with Angus Wright. Jensen says that in a conversation with other environmentalists about what words to use to convey the urgency of the crisis while making the ideas accessible, Wright suggested this as a slogan: “No more water, the fire next time.”
Jensen’s interview with Wright ends with a discussion of hope. Jensen asks if we are facing “the fire next time” and whether there is “a way out of the trap we’ve set ourselves.” Wright says, “I don’t know if there is a way out, but we have to try.” He says we have to try if we want to maintain our self-respect, then says: “I maintain a certain faith that many people are going to make the right choices, and we can hope that is enough.”
God made a covenant not only with humankind, but with all the creatures of the earth. In doing so, God shows us that the web of relationships among God, humans, and all of creation is the context in which we make our moral choices. Our hope is that as remembering who we are in relation to God and God’s creation, and we will choose wisely.