April 2, 2006 A+D
St. John 8:42-59
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Abraham is not dead. Abraham believed and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness. The Lord provided. Abraham and Isaac went free.
The faith that delivered righteousness to Abraham wasn’t easy. He was an old man, and old men know how life disappoints, how dreams fizzle, how promises are broken, how violence permeates, how greed and lust corrupt, how ignorance and stupidity dominate, and how the best days are already gone. Abraham knew about death. All old men do. And all old men he knew about regret. The Abimelech fiasco must have still burned his ears. Yet God had told him he would be the father of a great nation. His descendants would number more than the sands on the seashore. But he was old. He had only one son, that son a miracle, a small glimmer of hope that somehow his family line would continue, that God can make the desert bloom, and cause barren women and virgins to give birth. Then God told him to kill his son, end his hope. Isaac could not survive being a burnt offering. Abraham would use the knife to slit his throat, then he would set his body on fire and watch it burn. Abraham knew of the resurrection, but this still didn’t make sense, and it would be painful beyond what fathers can endure. But by grace, Abraham believed. He knew that God was good, that God was merciful, that God would provide. So he suffered this indignity. He submitted to the will of God. I bet he prayed Job’s famous line: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
By grace, Abraham believed. He waited. He trudged up the mountain with that awful knife, too ashamed to look his laughing little boy in the eye, and he hoped against hope. He held God to His Word. He is a man of faith. In light of that I can think of no greater dishonor, nothing worse that could be said of him now than this: he is dead. Abraham is not dead. Abraham believed. It was reckoned unto him as righteousness. The Lord provided. Isaac went free.
Moses and Elijah are not dead either. We don’t really know, but we expect that neither Peter, James, nor John were fifty years old when they saw Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. So Jesus seeing Abraham is not so much about the age of Jesus as it is about the state of Abraham. He is not dead. He passed through death and into life. Heaven is his promised land. We are his children. He lives, he still exists, he will not stop.
Nonetheless, Jesus is older than Abraham. Before Abraham was, Jesus is. He is the One who is, who was, and who always will be. He is without beginning and and without end. He took up our flesh to make Himself a Sacrifice. He entered into our world and humbled Himself to suffer what we suffer, to be tempted as we are tempted, and to die as we die — only worse. Abraham was spared the sacrifice of his son, not so the Father of us all. For while Abraham believed and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness, Jesus believed and it was reckoned unto Him as guilt. The Father sacrificed the Son. Jesus obeyed His Father’s will. He was without sin and the perfect substitute and payment for sinners who could not save themselves. Abraham passed through death and straight to Heaven. That is the reward of the righteousness reckoned unto him. Jesus went to Hell on the cross. He was forsaken by His Father. He felt the bitter agony of guilt alien to Him in the depths of His soul. He endured the abuse and mockery of violent men as the demons had their way with Him. He is the ram caught in the thicket. He is the innocent One who dies for the guilty. His death is our life. His flesh is our bread. His Blood sustains us. He clothes and feeds and cleanses us by giving up all He is for us. The Lord provided. He provided Jesus.
Jesus is not dead either. He came through death also — though in a different way. He paid the ransom, emptied the devil of all his strength, and reconciled all mankind to His Father and His love for the Father and for us never wavered, never doubted, never weakened. Righteousness was not reckoned unto Him. It is who He is. He is the Righteous One, the Lover of our souls, the Beloved of the Father. He rested in the tomb for three days. Then He took up His Life again and as a Man He rose from the dead. Death was spent, had done its worst, had no more to ask. It could not hold Him. He creates out of nothing. He brings life out of death. He no longer humbles Himself. He is still a Man. He is still one of us, joined to our flesh, is bone of our bones, but He is also God. He has taken up His power as a Man that men might live and might rise on the last day. He has completed His Father’s will. He is the perfect Son. And He has sent His Spirit through the Apostles to all the earth to make us His. He reigns as a Man at the right hand of the Father. He is our Advocate and Mediator, our Lover and our Friend, the Savior of Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Elijah.
What has all this to do with you? In the first place: He died and rose for you. You believe. You are baptized. He has called you by name. It is reckoned unto you as righteousness. He declares you to be His child. He recreates you in His image. You are a reflection of His holiness, a saint of God.
In the second place: this is the fate of all those who believe in Jesus Christ, who trust in Him. Abraham is not dead. Neither are your loved ones who have preceded you in the faith. They live. They kept Jesus’ Word in their hearts. They said their “amens” to His Truth and now they sing Hosanna, loud Hosanna, with the Holy Innocents. They have not seen death. Jesus’ Word is true and is fulfilled in them. They have passed through death and gone to the bosom of Abraham their father, to the company of saints. Now they join their praise to that of the Seraphim and holy angels while they wait for you. Your day will come. The Lord will provide.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
I just finished a novel translated from Lithuanian about life in a Jewish Ghetto in Poland during the German occupation. Every time someone dies they say that the person does not exist. It is quite disturbing. It doesn’t seem to be an error of translation. They use the word die. But afterwards the death they say: “My brother no longer exists.” or “My daughter does not exist.”
We would never say that. Death is never the end. It may not lead to a better place. It may lead to a place that makes a Nazi-run ghetto full of betrayal, hunger, and fear look quite nice, but it is not the end. The soul of man is indestructible. It goes on either into the paradise of heaven with Jesus Christ or into eternal damnation with the demons.
That is why this exchange between Jesus and the Jews is so strange. They say: “Abraham is dead.” And, of course, he isn’t.
We don’t really know but we suspect that
When Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My Day, and he saw it and was glad” He did not mean that He was older than Abraham as the Jews assumed. He is older than Abraham, fore before Abraham was He is. But the point with “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My Day” was that Abraham, that old man who begat a son well past the age and led him to a mountain with fire and a knife but no lamb,
Father of a miracle child, a gift in their old-age, the number of Abraham’s children wasn’t quite as many as the sands on the seashore but he was a glimmer of hope for the future.