Verses 1-2,9-13 and 15-18 of Genesis 22: are part of a well-known and challenging story, but we should see it in context. Previously in the story God has promised Abraham he will be the ancestor of a vast number of people (Genesis 12:1-3) and even though he and Sarah are old they will have a son (Genesis 15:1-6) of their own, Isaac. It is through Isaac that there will be many descendants to fulfill God’s promise made to Abraham. But in this reading we hear that God asks Abraham to sacrifice this son, Isaac. Now this story purports to be about an event that took place about 1800 BC, so whatever was its source, it has been told and retold a considerable number of times before it was incorporated into the Jewish Bible. There was a time when they lived among others who sometimes sacrificed a child to bring good fortune or ward off some evil; certain Israelites themselves may have been lured into this practice and this tale about Abraham may have been told to illustrate the truth that God does not really want a child sacrificed even if it seemed to anyone a good ‘religious’ thing to do. But the story could also carry the homiletic message that sometimes God may ask of you things that seem quite appalling to you but you must trust God for He will always do right by you in the end; have faith in God for that will bring you righteousness.
In the reading from Romans 8:31-34, Paul says something that can be helpful to us. He is in the process of explaining his understanding of Christianity and here he expresses the utter confidence in God that we should have. After all God sent His Son to be one of us and to live and die for us; what better sign could we have of God’s concern for us. If God is for us, Paul says, then who can be against us. But we know from our experience that we can be accused and condemned by other people; Jesus Himself underwent accusation, trial, condemnation and even execution; but God raised Him to the new life with God – this is our belief and the foundation for our confidence in God.
The gospel reading from Mark 9:2-10 is about the Transfiguration. In the Book of Exodus, Moses goes up a mountain to commune with God and is in a cloud for six days before any revelation comes then he remains for forty days and forty nights. Some might reflect that Jesus with the inner circle of disciples is transfigured up some other mountain. With him appear representative figures of the Law and the Prophets which in His own way Jesus is bringing to completion. Peter couldn’t believe it when Jesus said He would suffer and die; the two didn’t match with how Peter thought the Messiah would be. But Peter now experiences things a little differently – he sees Jesus transfigured and hears God’s voice declaring Jesus to be His Son. This is utterly mysterious and no one can really speak about such things till they encounter Jesus risen: “he didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened.” We must try to see Christ in all the people with whom we have dealings, but that is often just as astounding and hard to realise!
There is a Lenten reflection written by me (Jeff Bagnall) for this Sunday