The Whole Command

By James Cornwell

A Reading from Genesis 8:6-22

6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9 but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11 and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh — birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth — so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
22 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.”


Today’s reading brings us to the other side of the Flood. Once Noah has determined that it is safe to exit the ark, he is commanded by God to “bring forth… every living thing… that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.”

The Church has long associated the sacrament of baptism with the story of the Flood. Like the Flood, baptism washes away the sins of our past, including the primordial sin which we all inherit. Part of the witness we bear into the world is how others see that our faith makes us different; yet it’s important to ensure that the change does not simply amount to what we no longer do or fail to do. It also includes the transformation of the way we do everything, our whole self. This passage reminds us that baptism also regenerates: it takes what is alive within us and makes it live fruitfully in a new way. It is therefore the duty of every Christian to reflect on this: what is alive in us and not washed away? Gifts, personality traits, work, family — the expectation is that we bring those aspects of our lives with us out of our baptism in order that they might multiply their fruits and fill the whole earth. It is only through this cultivation of what has survived the flood of baptism that we can fulfill the whole of God’s command.

Every time we remember our baptism — whether during confession, or when lifting our eyes to Christ’s body and blood, or when we pray — we must remember not just God’s mercy for remitting evil things past, but also his command that all good within us should come forth and bear wholesome fruit into the future.

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

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