Friday, July 01, 2011

Off to Mount Moriah

The Eucharistic lectionary yesterday featured that story that strikes dread into the heart of children's workers throughout the world - the (almost) sacrifice of Isaac...
As my curate read it to the small Thursday congregation gathered up the hill, painfully conscious of the high cost that some clergy families are paying right now for the sake of vocation, I was almost speechless...
Why THAT reading today?
What could I possibly say about it?
It didn't seem to me that there was the option of ignoring it - it's not the kind of Bible story you can gloss over or expect the congregation to forget.
So I waited for inspiration.
I read the Gospel.
Nothing stirred.
We said the Creed (BCP service, this).
Still nothing.
Too late now. No escape..
"Please sit down.
What are we to make of this story? 
What does it say about God? how could we ever share it with our children?"

And suddenly I found myself answering my own questions - not just for Abraham and Isaac, but for my own children (who have undoubtedly felt themselves offered as a sacrifice on the altar of my priesthood from time to time) and for the families of all my friends who have asked, from time to time, whether this mad, wild and sometimes wonderful calling is really worth it.

Because, of course, in the end God DIDNT demand that sacrifice.
The point was not that God wanted to take back the gift that had been given, nor that some ghastly blood-lust should be assuaged.
God wanted Abraham to confirm his that relationship that had enabled him to leave his father's house and venture into the unknown at God's invitation.
I'm pretty certain that this is what it's all about, really.

Even at my darkest, most disillusioned moments I've always known that God cares about my children even more than I do...because God's perspective is total. My recurring problem is actually trusting in my heart that God will deliver the care that, in my head, I know I can rely on. So, I make contingency plans, try to protect my loved ones just in case God fails to turn up, struggle with herding a whole flock of sheep and rams up the mountainside so that there's absolutely no danger that one of my most precious, beloved children will be sacrificed on the altar of my ministry - or in any other way at all.
And in doing that, I limit both my expectations of God and God's opportunities to act - because, in my experience at least, God just doesn't wade in unasked.

I don't think this makes things feel any better, when you seem to be stuck in the wilderness with nothing to rescue your children from all sorts of painful sacrifices...but it does, perhaps, offer a further reassurance that, as FabBishop always says as he shares the cure of souls with a new incumbent, we can honestly
"put our trust in God. He is faithful"

And of course, the ending of the Abraham story gives us something huge to look forward to....for he is, famously, blessed to be a blessing. I know that will be true for my friends who are stuck on the mountain as well.


Joan of Quark said...

Thankyou for this and the previous post, both of them exactly what I needed to hear right now. As a kid, I had great difficulty with that passage, which was never remotely explained to us. Coming from a violent family, it's not what you want to hear un-contextualised. (OK, so that probably isn't a word. Neither is the word verification, "spude," which I think will make a lovely faux swear word when I have to give up the real thing.)

Still Breathing said...

Whenever I come across this story I tend to think that Abraham, on seeing the customs of the people around him, thought that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac. Read this way it becomes a comforting tale of how God intervenes to stop us getting it wrong when we do what we mistakenly think is His will.