Over the rainbow!


Ezekiel 1: 25-28
25 Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 26 Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli*, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face-down and I heard the voice of one speaking.


To put the above into context:
Ezekiel, in prophesying to the exiles in Babylon, had to dispel the false hope that Israel’s captivity would be short, explain the reasons for the severe judgements on their nation and bring a message of future hope. Although the people did not respond altogether positively, they heard the messages and understood the truth. God’s people were not without explanation or direction. Nor are we!
There is more than a single grain of truth in what we read here!

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

Do you ever stop marvelling at the sight of a rainbow in the sky? Now we see them everywhere: in house front windows, Churches, schools, factories, post offices, closed down shops and restaurants, in fact almost everywhere we look. Though nothing can truly capture the sight of a real rainbow! At its simplest it is the revelation of light, or happiness that comes through the rain, or sadness. It is the hope that comes through the desperation. It is the promise of God, that pierces through the darkness.

As such it has become a symbol, an encouragement to see beyond the challenges and difficulties that we all now face. For some it is indeed desperate and may seem hopeless, for others it is truly frightening and a source of extreme anxiety. For some very fortunate people, it is merely an inconvenience. There may still be some people who are in denial and see it as a kind of conspiracy. However, there can be few who remain completely oblivious or untouched. It seems to me at the moment that my nephew, Tom, a third of the way into an 18-month stint at the British Antarctic Survey’s main base at Rothera, is probably in one of the current safest places on earth, which could not normally be said with reference to just about the furthest reach of human endeavour!

The symbol of the rainbow of course has more recently been adopted by the LGB and T communities as one of acceptability, inclusivity, diversity and tolerance.

Scientifically however, it took a good deal of explaining …
A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured circular arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun. Recorded attempts at explaining the mechanics of the rainbow go back to the classical Greek scholar Aristotle born almost 400 years before Christ and the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, born about 50AD. It was the work of Isaac Newton, and later Young, Ary and Mie which helped to provide Nussenzveig with a modern summary. In 1986, the latter was the recipient of the Max Born Award “for distinguished and valuable contributions to the theory of Mie scattering and to the theories of the rainbow and the glory.” A glory, by the way,  is an optical phenomenon resembling an iconic saint’s halo around the shadow of the observer’s head, caused by sunlight interacting with the tiny water droplets that compose mist or clouds. Glories arise due to wave interference of light internally refracted within small droplets.

I hope you have taken all that in!

Whatever the science, it is always an awesome sight and one which conjures up hopes and dreams for every one of us. For me personally, I will never forget the appearance of the double rainbow that day 19th August 1988 when atop Surprise View I proposed to Helen and she said “Yes!” A year to the day after that we were married!
Almost as memorable is the song “Somewhere over the rainbow”, one of the centrepieces of an epic performance by Judy Garland in the film “The Wizard of Oz”. In so many ways it was a great film. Released when colour was about to go mainstream, the black and white of Dorothy’s time in Kansas was the perfect juxtaposition for the bright colours of her trip down the Yellow Brick Road. Then there is the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, each representing one of the neuroses that live inside us all. The lovable on-screen characters help us come to terms with ourselves. The wizard tells us to look away and ignore the person behind the curtain and is a parable that could have been written about the world in 2020 when so much is fake and so little real.
Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s classic describes a sense of wanting to be somewhere else, a happier place, where pain and suffering will be at an end, Heaven or Paradise for Christians:

Some day I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Far above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

For me the most poignant rendition of this beautiful song is that by Eva Cassidy, surely one of the most gifted of singers in all genres, whose life was tragically cut short by skin cancer at the age of only 36 in 1996. If you have not heard it, I urge you to do so and if you are unable to source it anywhere else, I can loan you a CD!

For youtubers, it’s here:

Whilst you are at it, do not miss her take on Wonderful World, for it is truly …. well… wonderful! It was the last song she ever sang in public.

Imagine my surprise, then in this time of lockdown, when the Woodhouse Grove Special Operations Executive (a front for the Director of Music) should decide on this song as a collaborative project between students and teachers to produce an audio/video collage (if you listen closely you might recognise a familiar voice and flugel horn melody), released to the world on 1st May 2020 via youtube:

What an amazing result!

Amidst all the sadness, the pain, the grief, the longing for togetherness, a kiss, a hug, there is a realisation of the importance of the deeper things of life. There is a closer understanding of our own fragility, our dependence on others, our mortality, the certainty of death, though we know not how or when.

As Christians, we are indeed fortunate, for amidst all the uncertainty, we are assured that one day all trouble will pass, that all pain and suffering will cease and that we will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us.

May those of us that are spared this scourge live our lives as a changed people, with a new and more compassionate attitude to all our neighbours, with a commitment to each other and to the common good of humanity.

Each time we see the rainbow, real or in representation, may we appreciate it as

The appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
Let us fall down and hear the voice of one speaking.


Peter Lambert – May 2020