Stories from The Night: The Test - Reflections 5-3-17

Genesis 22:1-18

This is the Third Lesson from the Easter Vigil: 
The Testing of Abraham

At one of our vigils in the past, the pastor donned a black hooded cloak that shadowed his face. He held an enamel wash basin with red liquid in it and held a hunting knife dripping with that red liquid. He proceeded to tell an agonizing and haunting story of nearly killing his only son. Just before the moment he was about to slit his son’s throat, he said, a ram got caught nearby in a thicket and served as a substitute in the son’s death. It was really scary. He looked the part of a madman holding that dripping knife.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that some of the kids attending had nightmares that night.

Since then, I tend to leave the story of Abraham and Isaac out of the lineup of lessons. There are only four lessons that “must” be included in that part of the service, and mercifully, Abraham and Isaac is not one of the four.  I remember leading Sunday School teachers’ workshops on faith development long ago. As a part of the workshop, we used this text to illustrate how people of various faith stages might understand it. There are a lot of ways one can wander on this one, from unquestioning obedience to analyzing ethical principles to justify Abraham. The quote for this story with preschool children is “The wisdom of telling them this story is questionable because the story is likely to be misinterpreted”. 

So, I was sorely tempted to skip this story for this blog. But, the truth is, the resurrection connection is pretty clear. I understand why one would chose it to be an option in the Vigil. Talk about new life for Abraham AND Isaac when that ram shows up and Abe is told to not harm his son! The church fathers emphasized that Christ is our ram.
But this story still feels horrible; God orders Abraham to kill his only son to test him? 

Commentators encourage us to let go of the emotional response to the father and son drama, to a bigger picture of promise and trust. Abraham spent much of his life waiting on God’s promise. Finally, his life had settled down. Now God is taking him on another journey, a journey that seems to retract the promise. It is a test of Abraham.  “Why” is unanswered. 

Unlike other times earlier in Genesis (see chapter 15), Abraham didn’t ask for details.  He just set out. Did Abraham trust God enough to give up the seemingly fulfilled promise he had held in arms, who was walking beside him? Did Abraham trust God enough to start all over again after 35 years? 

It would be so much easier to figure this out if the story would just say directly “this is what you should learn”. But like Jesus parables, the conclusion is left to us.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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