Waiting Stinks

By James Cornwell

A Reading from Genesis 7:1-10, 17-23

1 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” 5 And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. 7 And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.

17 The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20 the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22 everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.


Most of us are familiar with this story from our childhood. We recall how Noah must have borne the mockery and ridicule of his fellows while he built his absurd ark based solely on a quixotic impression of a calling from God. We know of the labor of his family in building the massive ship, and of the work and toil that must have been involved in gathering two of every kind of animal so that they could escape God’s coming wrath.

But what we don’t typically reflect on is the first four words of verse 10: the rain that brought the flood did not begin for seven whole days after Noah and his family had shut themselves and the animals into the ark. What must have been going through his mind, as the sun burned hotly on this wooden mass that surely must have begun to stink? He had done everything the Lord had asked of him, but where was the promised flood? Was it all in his head after all?

We are well out of the season of Advent, but we find that, even here, in the season of the manifestation of Christ’s divinity, we find ourselves waiting. Those following the lectionary in church this morning will hear of Jesus’ divinity revealed in the wedding at Cana; and what is a wedding but a promise of things yet to come, things still hoped for? Christ’s glory was revealed in his first coming, and yet we still eagerly await his Second. As we listen during this season of light to the remembrances of Christ’s power made manifest, let us not forget that in this in-between time, the manifestation of his power will come in fits and starts — and we may need to quietly wait in a place that stinks — but we may rest in hope of the ultimate manifestation of what we seek.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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Christ Church, Cooperstown, N.Y.
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