May 10 2020

The Rainbow Symbol

The recurring symbol of these coronavirus days will be the rainbow. Every house where children live has a rainbow picture in the window, and how fitting it is that the artwork is by children, our new generation and our hope.

Leicester Unitarians Great Meeting Stay home for NHSOf course others too have adopted the symbol, including Damien Hirst, he of the shark in formaldehyde and diamond-encrusted skull. He has produced an “artwork” rainbow too.

Seventy-five years ago a rainbow was (figuratively speaking) set in the sky over this land when the war in Europe came to an end. Victory in Europe Day was celebrated on Friday.

Adolf Hitler had committed suicide, and the remaining German leaders signed an unconditional surrender on 7th May 1945. When the news broke tens of thousands rushed into the streets of London and elsewhere and celebrated. The party in the capital went on until about midnight when a heavy rainstorm started to fall.

Services of thanksgiving for peace were held in churches and cathedrals everywhere, the Royal Princesses mingled with the crowds, and for a day and an evening the lights came on again. But the war in the Pacific rumbled on, and restraint and caution had to be reasserted.

Winston Churchill addressed the nation: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead…” These could be words of caution for ourselves as we anticipate an eventual liberation from lockdown.

Years later at school the Scripture master told us again the story of Noah, and how God had set the rainbow in the sky after the flood had abated, as “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh, that is upon the earth.”

In Physics we learned how white light is separated up into its colours, and we learned about the uses of the prism, and then we were told how the raindrops in the sky refract the sunlight to produce the rainbow that follows the storm.

Noah’s great rainbow,” as Bob Dylan described it in his album Highway 61 Revisited, is not only a spectacle of beauty, but an astonishing physical occurrence unsurpassed (I think, despite it not being that rare) in all of nature.

Whether we will be allowed to hold street parties and dance in celebration when the virus leaves our shores, is doubtful, but there will not be a soul among us whose heart will not be filled with gratitude for its departure, and for all the brave individuals who fought in the struggle against it, and especially those whose lives were lost.

The rainbow with its seven different colours represents humanity in all its nationalities and faiths. It arches across the sky irrespective of borders to include everyone.

We arrive in infancy at Sunday School with an idea that God is in the sky. But, as A Powell Davies wrote: God is not in the sky: but God is in the heart that loves the sky’s blueness, There is no army of angels, no hosts of seraphim, no celestial hierarchy. All this is in our imagination. But there is angelic purity of motive, and seraphic joy, and celestial heightening of the human spirit.
God is not in the rainbow, but God is in our heart when we stand out and look with wonder and longing upon it. God is not in the rainbow, but God is in the eyes that love to see it, in the understanding that marvels at how it was made, in the heart that believes its promise.

Faith lies in our experience of the earth and everything upon it. And if we look for God, we may find God in our responses to a world which has in it things of such joyousness, loveliness, truth and beauty.

Was John Keats writing about a rainbow in the opening lines of Endymion ? If not specifically, then about things very like it.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth…

From a prayer adapted from Rev Penny Johnson; “O God, bless us with your presence as we come before you… In our worship we continue a long and precious tradition of sharing with this congregation the deep moments of our lives. Sometimes we bring more of sorrow than of joy, more of tension and anxiety of the soul than of peace…We have learned that your still small voice speaks to us in the calm following the storm,… As we strive to live boldly and purposefully, O God, be with us. May we support one another on the journey, knowing that in you, indeed, is our rest. Amen.

Sunday Service homilies from the Minister during coronavirus period