Homily by Elizabeth May MP
God's Covenant with All Creation
It’s an honour to join with you in worship virtually this morning with the St Aidan’s community. Your minister, the Rev. Lucy Reid, was of course the minister of a church in a neighbouring riding to mine near Victoria, and we’ve been friends ever since.
I asked for one passage for today's readings to be Genesis chapter 9 verses 8 to 17 as a reflection on our relationship to the natural world.
I first paid attention to this section of Genesis (and I’d taken courses in theology and I’d done a chapter by chapter exegesis on the first many chapters of Genesis) when I was at a service in Copenhagen in the climate negotiations in 2009, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was then the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, did a homily taking his reading as I did today from Genesis chapter 9. In it, the significance of it, is the passage where God establishes the covenant and promises to never again destroy the earth, and it’s the rainbow God places in the sky. And at verse 9 it reads, “And behold, I establish my covenant with you and with your seed after you and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, of every beast of the earth with you, all that go out of the Ark.”
So of course this is the story of Noah and his family and building the ark, and the flood story, and the end of the flood with the rainbow. All of that we know without even thinking about it. That’s the story we learned when we were in Sunday School. But isn’t it interesting (and this is what the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out) that not once, not twice, but five times in this passage the Lord establishes that this is a covenant “that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you.” That's a direct relationship between God and all of the other species on the earth with us.
Of course in work we've done on endangered species around the world many people have picked up on this theme to say to those who might not think it’s important to protect nature, “Look, God had Noah build an ark and bring every creature on board two by two to make sure that those species continue.” But the specific covenant between God and humanity is just as specific between God and every creature.
So the recognition of the holy, the recognition of the sacred, that begins at the very beginning of Genesis which says at every stage of creation that God stopped and said, “It is good, it is holy,” – the natural world then is in direct relationship with God: the whales, whether they’re orcas or humpbacks, the salmon, everything on this earth, every living creature, every sparrow, every snake, every mosquito is in a direct relationship with this covenant.
And the Archbishop of Canterbury in his homily said, “You know, Noah didn’t say, ‘What do you mean, Lord? There’s no one here but us, just me and my family. I don't see the creatures. What are you talking about?’” So it was a lovely moment to have the Archbishop of Canterbury make me laugh out loud. But that relationship is one that we have to take seriously.
In coming out of pandemic we're recognizing that in this period of humanity hunkering down, staying home, largely staying out of our cars, out of our trucks less shipping happening, we’re seeing wildlife wandering back into urban spaces; we’re seeing how closely in relationship we are to creatures that we rarely se,e because our activity keeps them at bay; and how quickly the living world, whether fox or moose or even whale, will come back into the spaces once we make room for them.
So we have to remember that that which God thinks is sacred, that which God has proclaimed to us is in direct relationship with Him, is just as equally protected by the Lord’s covenant - that the Lord will not destroy life on earth. What makes us think that just as we presumed to be god-like in eating the apple of Knowledge from the tree, in creating our fall from grace, what makes us think we can be god-like and decide what species will live and what species will not?
We are creating a mass extinction right now, and we have a chance as we come out of pandemic to reflect on the sacredness of the natural world, and if God is in direct relationship with each one of these species, how dare we think they aren’t important to us?
In all things the Lord is clear: this is a sacred place; the creation of planet earth, the creation of darkness and light, the creation of oceans and rivers, the creation of sky, the creation of climate - all of this is the work of God’s hands and we should treat it as sacred, and we should approach it with reverence.