So this morning I walked into the primary worship space of my seminary. It was decked out in the colors of Gay Pride in a way I have rarely seen, and I have personally decked out several worship spaces for Pride Eucharist, the problem is that it was decked out this way for a Lenten Worship. I was hurt, I was angry, I wanted to cry. I have talked to others and realized that I was not alone in this reaction.
Worship is all about expressing the meaning of symbols. On the first Sunday of Lent this year, one of the symbols presented to us is the Rainbow, the sign of the First Covenant of God with all the people of the earth. It is the symbol that no adversity we face is meant to annihilate and destroy us and that God will never seek so to do. It is the symbol that outside of any law code, level of sinfulness or holiness, or decree of judgment there is God’s overwhelming Love, Mercy, and Peace to all.
It is a good symbol to have as the church enters Lent. It reminds everyone that the reason of the present adversity and penitence is so that we can become more fully aware of God’s love. It is the spring gushing from a rock that will follow us throughout our Lenten dessert journey until we reach the festival Oasis of Easter.
So while it is a symbol that frames lent it is not a Lenten symbol. It is not a symbol of penitence. It is not plain, austere, and hesitant it is beautiful, full, and loud. For many people it might be only slightly jarring to find it presented in the midst of a Lenten service and with the context of the Genesis’ reading and proper explanation of why it is there and what our penitence means… it could work.
Except for me. For me and for most of the LGBT community, the Rainbow is the universal symbol of inclusion, love, and acceptance. It is the same meaning as embodied in the story of Genesis but for us the meaning is exponential. We who have truly been locked up for years in the arks of our closets struggling against the storms of a world that does not tolerate us, of family that rejects us, of isolation and fear; we who have spent years scared to have any association with a Rainbow in fear it might “out us”; we who have to struggle and overcome a world telling us we are not made beautifully. When the dove finally brings us that branch, when we have finally found that dry land, when we have finally seen the rainbow and know that we are beautiful individuals that are loved. There is nothing like that symbol. It is one of the primary contexts in which I understand Easter.
Yes, I do roll my eyes at the LGBT community’s over use of Rainbows. But deep down it is one of those deep visceral symbols, a symbol of new life, of light, of truth. It is like the word A--e-uia, often overused but a powerful symbol that we hold back from use in Lent for the sake of being able to fully enter it later.
I do not know if I am going to be able to worship in that space for the time being. The symbols are so jarring that I cannot really enter into any space but emotional fervor. The lack of understanding around the meaning of the symbol of the Rainbow and how inappropriate it is for Lent in a community that includes LBGT members leaves me in a space I cannot even really define.