2nd Sunday of Lent B

Scripture scholars tell us that Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac was an important moment in the history of Judaism.  It was taken for a sign that contrary to the religions that surrounded them, their God would not demand human sacrifice.  That is well and good, but we are left with the terrible details of what might be the most harrowing tale in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Abraham is told by God to kill his only son, the one whom he loves.  Isaac is the miracle child of Sara and Abraham.  They had been barren for decades but God then not only grants this birth but promises that through this child his line would last for countless generations and his descendants would be as numerous as the sands of the seashore.  Now that hope is to be extinguished. But Abraham has already cast his lot with God and his faithfulness demands adherence to this horrible command.  The readings n spares us some of the most gut wrenching dialogue scenes as when on the way to the sacrifice the child Isaac asks his father where the animal needed for the sacrifice and Abraham’s solemn reply, “God himself will provide for the sheep for the holocaust.”  Abraham gets to the mountain, reaches out and takes the knife to slaughter his own son when Isaac is given a stay.  There will be no killing, but nothing can ever erase from the eyes of the father as they look of the son or from the eyes of the son the look of the father.

It is not surprising at all that the Christian community instantly saw in this story the cross of Jesus Christ.  He too was on a mission of faithfulness, to come among us, to love us and he loved the life he was given.  But that mission had a dark end.  He had to surrender everything, including his life.  This is what the father asked of him and this is what he would do.   But it was not easy.  In the agony in the garden just before his arrest, he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”  Luke tells us that sweats formed liked drops of blood falling to the ground.  Our redemption did not come cheap.

And this story of Abraham and Isaac with its shadow of the cross is then juxtaposed with one of the highest points in all the gospel.  Jesus takes three apostles with him up a mountain and he is transfigured before them into a different, beautiful state. Even his clothes change as if the glory inhabits just not his person, but his space.  And then he is joined by Elijah and Moses, the very embodiment of the prophets and the law.  How thrilled the apostles must have been. They have backed the right horse. But something more important is happening here.  Earth has intercepted heaven.  This is what real glory looks like.  And then we hear what it sounds like it. A cloud casts a shadow over them and the voice of God says, ““This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

These are the extremes of Jesus’ life.  The horror of the cross with its feelings summed up in the Abraham-Isaac story and the glory of the transfiguration.  And every other point along the spectrum has been filled in.  He made friends and he was betrayed; he healed and he was wounded; he preached justice and was oppressed; his birth was literally heralded by angels and he would die alone on a hill.  It seems to me that his life covered every one of ours.  I cannot imagine there is a feeling or experience that Jesus Christ did not feel and did not experience. This is the meaning of incarnation.  And he loved his way through all of it.

In the second reading, St. Paul asks a famous question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  I think we all believe that with God on our side, nothing we face is strong enough to conquer us.  But there is a question within the question.  “Is God for us?”  And we can say yes.  For there is no where we have been that Christ has not been.  He is for us because he was always with us.  In our darkness and in our light, in our failure and our achievement, in our tragedy and in our glory, he is with us.  And it is as if he gathered every moment, every laugh and every tear, every heartbreak and every joy, took them, changed them, blessed them, transfigured them and raised them up.  We are redeemed by our Savior.  God is for us.  Nothing can be against us.

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