Signpost For Sunday 18th. February, 2018 (First Sunday in Lent): Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15.
There is in inter-generational story in my family which may provide a little amusement, so I will start off with it. My grandfather was a deputy mine manager of a large coal mine in the West Midlands of England. He told me that one day the mine manager gave instructions that there should be “only a few men down the mine”. Later, when he asked how many men were actually underground my grandfather’s answer was that there were two hundred men in the mine, which was significantly less than the usual number. The manager said, “You should know better than that. It’s in the Scriptures: first Peter.” This was a reference to a phrase in our reading from the epistle reading: few, that is eight.
There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather was perfectly aware of the biblical reference, and also that he would never have used it himself in that particularly literal manner, especially since it comes from a passage dealing with symbols. In his typical fashion he told this story about himself in order to make me think.
But why would Peter be writing about Noah in the context of a discussion of suffering, both of Christ himself and, earlier, of Christians? He was describing baptism as being a statement that the person baptised was publicly making an appeal to God for a clear conscience. The baptism itself was also a symbol of death and resurrection, with a new start. Noah was in the position that a catastrophe, in which he lost his home, his friends, but not the family which accompanied him, were given a new beginning, a new covenant with God. They were given the new start as a consequence both of faith and of loss, but the new start obviously involved a new life, in a changed environment.
If we use this idea as a symbol of baptism we can see that commitment to Christ does not allow us to avoid suffering and loss, but it does allow us to ride it out, with a new covenant and a new way of life.