Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Doing Others' Homework: Sacrificing Sons

(With this meditation, the Lenten devotional book that I envisioned is complete. If the person originally assigned to write for Good Friday comes through in time to be published, then this is the only forum where anyone will be able to read this meditation of mine.)


Genesis 22:1-14 "My father! ...Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham replies to his trusting son, "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering." Isaac's reactions after that aren't recorded. Did he fight when his father bound him to the altar? Did he cry? Did he say, "Father! Why have you forsaken me?" It's easy to see why our Prayer Book assigns this story on Good Friday when we remember God's Son dying as a sacrificial lamb.

Any story of a parent's killing a child is hard to take, whether it's in ancient texts or headline news. Picture it happening to a familiar child, such as one of our smaller acolytes struggling to hold up the cross, and our imagination refuses to accept the image. So we soften the story a bit: We take Abraham's words as a clue that he knew all along that God would halt the sacrifice in time. We secretly imagine that God the Father and God the Son worked out all the details of the crucifixion in advance.

Yet these two stories of fathers' sacrificing sons are at the heart of our faith. If they were staged to teach a lesson, then our faith is as hollow as Peter's empty boast to Jesus. He says, "I would lay down my life for you, " but chokes when a mere kitchen maid asks if he's a disciple. Peter soon grew in faith, and bravely faced torture and martyrdom, along with the hundreds of others referred to in today's epistle reading.

As Father Ray reminded us in a sermon on this reading, it's not so unusual for sons to lay down their lives for their fathers and mothers: We have generations of veterans at St. James who did just that. As I write this, one of our acolytes, now grown, serves us in Iraq.

For the rest of us, the scariest thing we face in a typical week may be a phone call to an angry client, parting with money, saying "no," or saying "yes." What sacrifice or risk tests your faith now?

Other readings assigned for this day in the Book of Common Prayer: Psalms 95 and 22, evening 40:1-1-14 (15-19), 54 Wisdom 1:16-2:1, 12-22 1 Peter 1:10-20 John 13:36-38 John 19:38-42

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