Monday, April 10, 2017

Passiontide: The Promise to Abraham

In these finals days of Great Lent the Christian turns his attention away from the themed Sundays of the preceding weeks and begins to consider the sufferings of Christ in earnest, the great acts benefiting us to our regeneration, the Cross, the tomb, and the Resurrection on the third day. The real enemy was not Rome or Babylon, but sin, which caused mankind grief and death and which, by taking on the form of a man and subjecting Himself to sinners, Our Lord expunged the spiritual stain of sin and the eternal consequences of death.

We Christians will consider the nature of sin and how the Resurrection opened the way to its forgiveness in the rebirth of Baptism. We will think about our personal sins, how lamentable they are to God, and how they contributed to Jesus' sufferings; I pray we also consider how fasting and uniting ourselves to His sufferings will purify us of the things that breach our connection to Him. Many would agree that we should not limit our prayers and attempts to attend services during Holy Week by the casual barriers of daily life, but perhaps a less obvious barrier is to meditation. We think of Holy Week as the culmination of a few specific things when it is in fact the culmination of a great many things, among them a series of covenants that began in earnest with our father in faith, Abraham.

God promised to make the ninety-nine year old Abram the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4-5) through which He would make Himself known among men. Abram believed "in uncircumcision", but he submitted to God's command of circumcision and "through the justice of faith" became the heir of the world (Romans 4:10-14). For his submission God made him a new man, no longer Abram, but Abraham. He knew God by faith, but by his submission to the command he was made anew, anticipating how by a greater encounter with Christ we may come to believe, but only by Baptism are we reborn free of sin. In his more Anglican days John Henry Newman observed "Even Abraham was justified by faith, though he was perfected by works" (Intercession).

Abram did not receive Baptism, he received a promise that he would multiply and his children would constitute many peoples. While promises do not change circumstance, they give hope that our lot will be changed. Nations did in fact come from Abraham while "sin reigned unto death." What came after the Resurrection was not a promise, but the fulfillment of a promise and the object of hope. While Abraham's descendants opaquely saw sin in infidelity to the Law, in the fullness of faith we sin as death itself. And yet Christ rose from the dead and "trampled upon death by His death and has given life" to those who were dead. Those dead in sin, if not in tombs, are brought into the Church on Holy Saturday when Christ freed Abraham and his faithful children, sinners that they were, from Hades. "Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

Death is the opposite of giving life. By God Abraham gave life to a multitude; Christ gave life eternal to all who would follow, Abraham's true children.

"The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

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