Happy Easter

April is cherry blosom time in my neighbourhood. 

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Our street is lined with cherry trees.

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The flowers are the size of the pompoms that people used to attach to wedding cars.

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The pink blossoms are a wonderful accompaniment to Easter.  My heart goes out to Christians in Syria today who likely saw nothing but war devastation and evidence of human suffering all around this Easter. 

The Blood Moon Tetrad: Portent of Change?

Last night, when the much-anticipated time arrived for me to head outside to watch the full moon turn a blood red, a nasty cold wind was blowing and not a single star, let alone the moon, was visible in the pitch-black night sky. And so I went to bed. But I was not to be totally disappointed. I woke up fully alert two hours later–the moon must have been there in my subconscious all the time–and when I got up and went out into the back yard to make one final check of the night sky, there it was! The only evidence of the intense cloud cover earlier in the evening was wisps of fast-moving clouds skimming across the face of the moon. The eclipse was only a partial one by this time, with a copper-coloured disc visible in just one corner. Even though the eclipse was not at its maximum, the sight of the moon was nevertheless for me a breath-taking moment. Below are two pictures of my view of the moon from my backyard. (It’s gratifying to know that I get three more tries in the next 18 months!)

Eclipse 002
Eclipse 003

Last night’s total eclipse was the first of a ‘blood moon’ tetrad which will occur in 2014-15. When four consecutive lunar eclipses are all total eclipses, the group is known as a tetrad, meaning ‘a set of four’. At the time of the total eclipse, the moon takes on a dark red aspect (copper-colour, really) due to the refraction of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere, hence the name ‘blood moon’.

A total of 142 lunar tetrads have occurred in the past 5,000 years. What makes this tetrad of particular note is that the eclipses align with the Jewish feast days of Pesach and Sukkot in both 2014 and 2015. In 2014, total lunar eclipses will occur on April 15, the first day of Jewish Pesach (already taken place), and on October 8, the first day of Sukkot. In 2015, this pattern will repeat itself, with total lunar eclipses on April 8, the first day of Pesach, and again on September 28, the first day of Sukkot. An alignment such as this has occurred only seven times since the 1st century AD, the last three in the past 500 years. The 2014-2015 tetrad will make eight.

The moon figures in Jewish religious observance quite apart from blood moon tetrads. Judaism follows a lunar calendar, meaning that, the timing of each of the feast days is keyed to the appearance of the full moon. The cycle of festivals begins with Pesach, or Passover (Leviticus 23:5-6). Pesach celebrations commence with the appearance of the full moon in the month of Nisan, a month which means literally “their flight.” As they share a Passover meal, or Seder, the Jewish people look back to their ancestors’ deliverance by God from bondage in Egypt. The last festival in the cycle is Sukkot, Hebrew word for ‘booths’ (Leviticus 23:33-43). Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths, is a festive celebration commemorating God’s miraculous provision for his people Israel during the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness, living in makeshift shelters, as they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.

This same alignment of blood moon tetrads with Pesach and Sukkot occurred in 1493-94, in 1949-50, and in 1967-68–all times of monumental change in the lives of the Jewish people. In 1492, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the entire Jewish community–some 200,000 of them–from Spanish territory. In 1948, on May 14, the very day that Israel declared its independence, the fledgling Jewish state was attacked by the armies of five of its Arab neighbours. In 1967 Israel, rather than waiting for its Arab neighbours to attack, launched a highly successful military campaign which lasted less than six days. In that time, Israel managed to capture the whole of the west bank of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Which naturally leads to the question: Is the 2014-15 tetrad a sign that profound change for the Jewish people is afoot yet again?

Much of the interest in the 2014-15 lunar tetrad has been fuelled by John Hagee, pastor of Texas’ Cornerstone Church and author of the recent book Blood Moons: Something Is about to Change. I haven’t read his book, just some of the promotional material put out by his publisher. Hagee calls the heavens “God’s billboard.” A connection between blood moons and calamity, interestingly enough, is found in the writing of the Hebrew prophet Joel:

“The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Joel 2:31).

Hagee predicts that, based on the appearance of the lunar triad, something really big is going to transpire in the coming eighteen months. He may well be right. Apparently, the Jewish Talmud also makes a connection between blood moons and calamity, stating: “When the moon is in eclipse it is a bad omen for Israel. If its face is as red as blood, (it is a sign that) the sword is coming to the world.”

Not having read Hagee’s book, I don’t know whether or not Hagee makes specific predictions about the nature of this impending earth-shaking event. He could very well be right that something major is afoot, something that will have a profound effect not only on Israel but ultimately on the whole world. But it’s a brave soul who would predict the future these days. Who could have foreseen Putin’s ‘Sudetan-like’ annexation of Crimea? And who would have predicted that one day the US, the ‘Great Satan’, would be carrying on ‘back-door’ negotiations with its enemy Iran? I look forward to the appearance of the three remaining blood moons in the tetrad. I only hope they occur on clear, warm nights. As to what they may or may not portend, I leave the future in God’s hands.

The “Noah” Movie: Not the Noah I Know

Saturday afternoon, I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s movie “Noah.” I purposely did not read any reviews of the controversial movie in advance so as to make up my own mind about the value of the movie. Aronofsky, a self-described atheist, says that he was motivated to make the movie because of his childhood fascination with the story of Noah. And that’s how the story of Noah is frequently regarded, as a children’s story. We’ve all seen the glossy storybooks with colourful pictures of pairs of animals walking in neat rows up a plank into a charming wooden ark directed by a smiling Noah. The Genesis account of Noah and the Flood is not a children’s story, far from it, and how it came to be seen thus is baffling. Must be all the animals! Children and animals just seem to go together naturally.

vintage-noahs-ark-illustration
Vintage Noah’s Ark by Dawn Hudson publicdomainpictures.net

For those who go to see Aronofsky’s “Noah” movie, the one question on their minds–at least, on the minds of those familiar with the Bible story–undoubtedly is: How closely does Aronofsky’s movie follow Genesis chapters 6-9? And so it was with me. After seeing the movie, my response would have to be: Aronofsky gives new meaning to the expression ‘artistic licence’. The changes he makes to the story are legion. In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” Tubal-cain, a meat-eating, sword-wielding, thuggish king somehow makes it into the ark along with Noah’s family where he has an evil influence on Noah’s son Ham. All the Genesis account tells us about Tubal-cain was that he was the forger of all implements of bronze and iron (4:22). In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the grandfather of Noah, Methusaleh, is a guru-like figure who lives in a cave and who magically heals Shem’s wife. In the Book of Genesis, Methusaleh is known only for living to a very ripe old age, and for being the father of Lamech (5:25-26). In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the Watchers, gigantic stone-creatures, help Noah build the ark. The Genesis story never informs us as to who helped Noah build the ark. In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” God destroys the world because the people have destroyed their world, i.e, they are guilty of ecological sin. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, God sends the Flood to judge humankind for its corruption and violence (6:11-13).

No deviation from the biblical text bothered me quite as much as Aronofsky’s portrayal of Noah. Here’s what the Book of Genesis tells us about Noah. His father Lamech called him Noah, which means ‘comfort’, anticipating that Noah would some day, in some way, be a source of rest to the toil-weary inhabitants of the earth (5:29). Noah, alone of all humankind at that time, found favour with God in the midst of a totally depraved culture (6:8). Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time, and he walked with God (6:9). Noah did according to all God had commanded him (7:5). Noah’s first act on leaving the ark was to build an altar to the LORD (8:20).

This is not the Noah we see depicted in the movie. At one point, Aronofsky turns Noah into a knife-wielding tyrant threatening to kill his first grandchild at birth, believing that it is God’s will that all human life should perish from the earth, including new life. Indeed, Noah views his survival and that of his family as punishment from God! (As to where the idea of a knife-wielding Noah might have come from: I got the sense that Aronofsky had conflated the story of Noah with the story of Abraham and the command to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22.) One of the most disturbing scenes, for me, was that of Noah’s daughter-in-law, sobbing and pleading, her twin newborn daughters in her arms, with Noah stood poised above, ready to kill. A deeply troubling picture of Noah, God’s agent of salvation!

Interested in creating a blockbuster action movie Aronofsky, understandably, does not explore the deep significance behind the Noah story. With Noah, we meet for the very first time the idea of a righteous remnant, faithful to God in the midst of a wicked and hostile culture, a recurring motif throughout the Bible. In Genesis chapters 1-5, we meet the God Who Creates. With the story of Noah, we encounter for the first time the God Who Saves. The Judeo-Christian God is both Creator and Saviour. With Noah, we see the first manifestation of God’s grace. It is also with Noah that God establishes His very first covenant. The story of Noah is about so much more than a flood, a strange boat, a whole lot of animals, and eight people.

Yes, go see Aronofsky’s imaginative retelling of the Noah story if you want an adventure story. But familiarize yourself with the biblical narrative first.