02 July 2017

A chilling story that challenges us
to reassess our notions about God

Abraham preparing for the sacrifice of Isaac … a stained glass window in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 2 July 2017,

The Third Sunday after Trinity,

9.30 a.m:
Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Genesis 22: 1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6: 12–23; Matthew 10: 40-42.

The near-sacrifice of Isaac, or the Akedah as it is called in the Jewish tradition, is a story that probably asks more questions than it answers.

Each time we hear it, I imagine we listen in horror as Abraham seems to be preparing to sacrifice his only son. And the story comes with all the gruesome details, as Abraham climbs the mountain, builds the altar, arranges the wood, binds his son, places him on the altar, and takes the knife into his hand. The looming tragedy is averted only at the very moment second.

It is a gripping, chilling and troubling story.

But at a time when child-sacrifice was a cultural norm, where people believed that sacrificing their first-born children was a way of appeasing the gods, this story turns those old superstitions on their head. Abraham knows the old ways.

But his relationship with God is a startling new relationship, founded on love. And this God is different from all the so-called gods. No, he does not demand human sacrifice, no he does not have a mean and violent streak.

Instead, this God that Abraham has begun getting to know, wants a relationship with us that is built not on fear, but on love and on freedom.

The child who was at risk is saved, the child who was bound up is set free, the child who was the victim of old-fashioned, out-dated superstitions now becomes part of the relationship between God and humanity that is sealed not by sacrifices like this, but by love.

Had Abraham forgotten God’s earlier promise so soon, the promise made to Abraham and Sarah that they would have children and through them they would be the spiritual ancestors of all nations?

And it is a story that challenges us to reassess our own notions about God.

Are our relationships with God founded on fear or on love?

Do we see God as a god who needs to be appeased or a God who encourages and enlivens our capacity to love?

In our reading from the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul challenges us to consider the same differences.

Do we believe in a god who would treat us as slaves who must obey, or as faithful partners who are caught up in his love?

Once again, we are offered a choice between death and life, between slavery and freedom, between blind obedience and love.

And we are given practical examples of how this life of live and freedom are lived out in our Gospel reading, when Jesus tells us that whatever we do for this who are in need, it is as though we do it for him.

It is in serving others and in loving others that we find freedom and a true relationship with God. Amen.

This reflection on today’s readings was prepared for Morning Prayer on Sunday 2 July 2017. (Revd Canon) Patrick Comerford, Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

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