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02.21.2021 First Sunday of Lent

“Landscape with Noah”

Joseph Anton Koch


Städel Museum - Frankfurt

Joseph Anton Koch

Having survived the Flood, Noah and his family offer a sacrifice to God, who has created a rainbow above the land as a sign of the new Covenant between him and humankind. Koch lived for over forty years in Rome. In this landscape, inspired by the Sabine Hills, he carefully balances the relationship between nature and the Bible narrative. The representation of a dialogue between living creatures and nature was one of the achievements of this Romantic Classicist. Koch came to the fore in the Nineteenth Century as the founder of a new form of German landscape painting.


Genesis 9:8-15

8“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth’. 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh’”.



We have chosen the First Reading of this Sunday’s liturgy, Genesis 9:8-15, because we have already reflected on the theme of repentance and believing in the Good News[1]. What stands out most of all in the mythical story of the Universal Flood, and in the Book of Genesis, is God’s unrelenting mercy. This prepares us beautifully for the proclamation of the Good News this Sunday. The narrative helps us to see the care and the mercy of God against the abiding fragility of humanity.


If we had gone through the traumatic experience of the terrible floods in Mozambique at the turn of the Millennium, or more recently of Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, we would undoubtedly be very anxious indeed about whether such an event would ever happen again. So we can imagine the feelings of horror and anxiety which must have overwhelmed Noah and his family as they emerged from the Ark as the sole survivors of the Flood.

God is faithful to His Promises

The word “Covenant” which is used here is an important word in the Bible. Although there are different types of Covenant which God made with His people, the idea is always the same. A Covenant is ‘a pledge given within a defined relationship’: God pledges to do certain things in the context of a relationship of responsibility toward certain people. It is important to note the following aspects of God’s Covenant with Noah.

It was Unilateral

God took the initiative in that the Covenant originated with Him and He announced its terms to Noah. Noah did not negotiate with God. All of God’s Covenants are made in this way. God is sovereign. He determines what He will do in accordance with His own will.

Humanity cannot go to God and try to bargain. It is always God’s initiative.

It was Eternal (Gen 9: 12,16)

God knows His plan from the beginning and carries it out exactly as He intended. While humanity may disobey and seemingly thwart God’s purposes, His Promises will always be fulfilled. The Lord promises never to destroy the world again by a flood.

It was Universal (Gen 9:9-11)

God’s promise of protection from the judgment of a Universal Flood extends to every living creature. Every person who has ever lived has had the opportunity to observe God’s mercy through the whole of Creation. As Saint Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom.1: 20).

It was Unconditional

God does not say that His promise will be revoked if humanity reaches the same level of sinfulness as before. The Mosaic Covenant was conditional. It depended on the obedience of Israel. If they did not obey, God did not have to keep His part of the Covenant: namely, to bless them[2]. But the Covenant with Noah was not dependent on his or anyone else’s obedience. It depended solely on God’s word to Noah. If God acted on the basis of what humanity truly deserves, the human race would have perished long ago.

It was confirmed by a Sign (Gen 9: 12-14)

God sent a beautiful rainbow across the sky. While Noah was gasping in awe, God said, “This is the Sign of the Covenant which I make between you and me and future generations ... and it shall be a sign when I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds …”. Coming at the end of the storm, the rainbow shows that the storm of God’s wrath is past and His mercy breaks through.


Just as God insistently repeated His Promise to Noah, so He reaffirms His grace and mercy to us in Christ over and over again. Just as God gave Noah the rainbow as a sign that the storm of His wrath was over, so now He gives us Christ, through whom we are forgiven and reassured that His mercy is far beyond His justice.

Our belief in the forgiveness and mercy of God assures us that notwithstanding everything to the contrary, He will come to save us.



“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

the world, and those who live in it;

for he has founded it on the seas,

and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,

who do not lift up their souls to what is false,

and do not swear deceitfully.

They will receive blessing from the Lord,

and vindication from the God of their salvation.

Such is the company of those who seek him,

who seek the face of the God of Jacob”.

Creator God

In bright light and dull darkness. In the energy of each day and the rest that comes with night.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

In the heavens high above our heads. In waters that run deep around the world.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

In solid land and flowing seas. In vivid flowers and fruit laden-trees.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

In the rising and setting of the sun. In the cycles of the seasons. In the patterns of the shining stars.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

In oceans teeming with fish. In skies filled with birds.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

In a world filled with animal life. In ourselves as human beings.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

And God looked and saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very, very good. In rest and reflection. In wonder and worship.

R./ We remember the goodness of God.

The world around us is full of beauty.

R./ We praise your name O God.

For the gift of life on earth.

R./ We praise your name O God.

Open our eyes to see your artistry.

R./ We praise your name O God.

Your image is in all that you have made.

R./ We praise your name O God.

Where our praise is short or silent.

R./ We praise your name O God.

All creation sings out with joy.

R./ We praise your name O God.

Here we join creation’s song.

R./ We praise your name O God.


How do the words of this passage from Genesis help you to understand the presence of God in our world?

What is the meaning of this text for you today?

What do you observe in it?

Is there anything that leaves you perplexed/confused?

What has praying with this text called forth from you personally?

What needs to change in you having read this text?

Pope Francis writes in ‘Laudato Si’: “The earth, which was created to support life and give praise to God, is crying out with pain because human activity is destroying it”… to the point that: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth".

We contemplate how we are called to restore the beauty of creation so disfigured by human ambition and greed.

Contemplate the beauty of creation and God’s promise not to destroy it.

What does this all mean for you at the beginning of Lent, and the call to conversion?


[1] See the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. [2] Deut. 28: 15: “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods, I solemnly warn this day that you shall surely perish”.

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