“Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56).
Gen 17:3-9; Ps 105: John 8:51-59
Poor Abraham. When we read of God’s promise to give him more progeny than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, we marvel at his trust and persistence. He and Sarah remained childless until they were old and infertile. Abraham was as “good as dead” when God finally gave them Isaac, but not before Sarah, in desperation, urged Abraham to impregnate her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, with Ishmael. And even when Isaac was born, God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only child and beloved son.
Abraham’s faith is accounted great by future generations because it was so sorely tested, and because he was dead before he had barely glimpsed its fulfillment. Yet, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. This infuriates Jesus’ critics, and even more his claim that he had preexisted Abraham because he was in fact the timeless I AM. For this blasphemy, they picked up stones to kill him.
The fourth Gospel, composed a generation after the synoptics, clearly affirms the divinity of Jesus, identified by the Prologue as the eternal Word. This claim marked the break between the nascent Christian church and orthodox Judaism and is read back into the final conflict between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. He is condemned for blasphemy and crucified for encroaching on the divine pretensions of Rome’s emperor.
The genealogy of Jesus begins with Adam in Luke’s Gospel, and with Abraham in Matthew. For John, Jesus is the Son of God whose coming was signaled from the beginning of time. Creation itself was for this purpose, to reveal God’s plan in Jesus Christ. The Bible is the greatest story ever told because it is the one story that encompasses all others and determines the fate of all our hopes and dreams.
Holy Week is our window into this immense mystery. This year it unfolds in unthinkable circumstances. Human frailty and folly have been exposed by a microscopic grim reaper circling the world whose harvest is altering the landscape of our assumptions and expectations for the future of the global community and the planet itself. Our normalcy has been thrust back to ground zero, like the desert floor beneath a starry night where Abraham said yes to a future he would not live to see. Yet he believed, and it was accounted deep enough to be the foundation of our faith, a universal covenant with God that promises us, despite the evidence, that the story we are living will end well and in glory.
Lent this year began as it always does, with ashes and good intentions. It will end as Easter coincides with projected losses that will touch every continent, country, community and family. Our lives will be plunged into the waters of Baptism as never before. Our world will know the ancient truth of the Paschal Mystery, that everything, natural and spiritual, advances by passing through death to new life.
Easter is proclaimed in darkness with the lighting of a single candle that leads us in procession toward hope. Our response to this “Light of Christ” is simply, “Thanks be to God.”