I was just amazed when I looked at the readings for this morning. Here we are talking about New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the first reading is Noah and the Flood. I shouldn't have been surprised, of course. There is always a special synchronicity at work with God, always a special message for us to hear---but still, I was amazed.
Let's for a moment imagine the plight of Noah. A terrible storm, bringing endless rain, has obliterated everything of the world he once knew. He is adrift in a strange, rickety structure. He has that sick, lonely feeling of someone who has lost everything. He feels helpless and hopeless. At last, after endless days lost at sea, as it were, he "sent forth a dove out of the ark, and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly picked olive leaf, so Noah knew the waters had subsided from the earth".
The comparison here between Noah and New Orleans and the people there is almost unbelievable: a great storm bears down upon them and everything they have known is washed away. They are left, if they have anything at all, with strange, fragile storm-wrecked buildings that have almost nothing in common with the cozy homes they once knew. They have the sick, lonely feeling of people who have lost everything. They feel helpless and hopeless.
This year, as you know, some of us worked at the New Orleans Mission for the Homeless. We noticed that on one wall was painted a quote from Isaiah: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint". And then we went to church on Sunday and what was one of the readings that morning? The same quote from Isaiah. And we sang "On Eagle's Wings".
Now think of the dove. That great symbol of the Holy Spirit at work, its sturdy wings able to lift its body over the fearful waters. For untold centuries it has been the symbol of hope, as it searches and searches for a place to land, and finding an olive tree at last, brings back in its mouth hope and redemption for Noah and his frightened little band. Noah's trust in the Lord has been rewarded.
And what about the people of New Orleans? I like to think that perhaps the symbol of hope for them is another winged creature, not the dove but the eagle. If you want to see helpless and hopeless, come to the Mission for the Homeless. But on its wall is painted a picture of an eagle. And think about the hymn we sang: "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, Who abide in his shadow for life, Say to the Lord, my refuge, My rock in whom I trust! And he will lift you up on eagle's wings, Bear you on the breath of dawn, Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of his hand".
I like to think of them this way, flying like powerful eagles far above the furious waters, heading straight up to heaven.
I would like to end with a beautiful prayer which I found in a book called "Redeemer's Grace", something we read for the St. Michael's Book Group:
"Oh God, I offer the prayers of my heart
For those who are suffering. I don't know their names.
You know their names, and their sufferings are real to you.
Let them become real to me. Let me know how to be with them.
If they must suffer, may they know they are not alone.
May they be clothed with love, fed with love, warmed and protected by love.
May they be held in your hands and blessed in your love.
May the dead find their places in memory, may the wounded be healed,
May the mourners be comforted. May the morning come when all may arise with joy.