Weekly Meditation: 21st February 2016
2nd Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17- 4:1
In the Old Testament, we come across people doing things very differently from what we do both in daily life and in worship – offering animals (Leviticus 1:1-17), pouring oil on heads (Psalm 133:2), taking off a sandal to legalise a transaction (Ruth 4:7).
In Genesis 15 we read of the making of a covenant between God and Abram (later Abraham). God promised that Abram would have a son, and that his descendants would be as countless as the stars of heaven (4-5). Abram believed God and it was “credited as righteousness” to him – God required no works (6). God also promised Abram the land of Canaan as his possession (7), and to prove his word he enacted a ritual that would have not been unfamiliar to people of that time in sealing a bargain.
God told Abram to sacrifice a heifer, a goat and a ram together with a dove and a pigeon. The animals’ bodies were divided and arranged in two rows. Then a “smoking brazier with a flaming torch” appeared, and moved down the central aisle, between the broken pieces of the animals. This means of sealing a covenant was a self-malediction. The one who walked between the pieces – in this case God himself – in effect declared, “May it be done to me, as to these animals, if this oath is broken”. Centuries later, when Israel reneged on its covenant with God, it was he who – in Jesus – paid the ultimate price, giving his body, his life.
This is an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love and sacrifice for humans, and of his willingness to make himself vulnerable – to enter a covenant with fallible and sinful men, when it would be he who would pay if it failed. We find Jesus demonstrating similar vulnerability, grieving over unfaithful Jerusalem, still longing to gather its people to himself, but seeing their indifference, their house “left desolate” (Luke 13:34-35). Jesus knew it would cost him his life.
We clearly have a God who will go to any length to save us, a God whom King David referred to as “my light and my salvation” and “the stronghold of my life” (Psalm 27:1-2). Centuries later, the people of Jerusalem spurned the Lord who sought to take them under his wing “like a hen gathers her chicks”; but David knew he had exactly that degree of security (5-6) and rejoiced in it. He sought the Lord’s face, waited for him and was confident that he would see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (8:13-14).
Paul had the same confidence. Relinquishing earthly things, he could declare, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 4:20). For Paul, heaven was not the consolation prize for people unfortunate enough to have died – which is how it is often viewed. Heaven was eagerly awaited for it would transform his body to be like Christ’s “glorious body” (21). Paul wept for those who were foolish enough to reject the salvation offered them so freely (18), just as Jesus had wept over Jerusalem.
With our salvation so long in the making that it was already in hand at the time of Abraham, and which has been sealed with God’s own promises and with his blood, how can we turn from it to the glory of this world (19)? Rather, we will, with Paul, “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1).
By Susan Thorne