February 25, 2024
Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
I’m sure many of you have heard of the Passion play that occurs every 10 years in Oberammergau, Germany. In the middle-ages the plague was going through Bavaria. The people of Oberammergau prayed that if their village was spared any more deaths beyond the near 20 percent that had succumbed to the plague, the entire village would celebrate a Passion Play. The plague did not kill any more townsfolk. The people have kept their promise. They have held a Passion Play involving the whole town approximately every 10 years. I personally have never been to it, but I have heard from those who have said that it is an extremely moving performance. There is beautiful music and staging, with a huge cast made up of local residents. The play is 5 hours long, with a break half-way through for dinner. It really is an experience of a lifetime.
During the production Old Testament themes are woven into the sacrifice of Christ. One particular tableau depicts the sacrifice of Isaac. The picture is of Isaac and Abraham climbing up the mountain for the sacrifice. Abraham carried the knife. Isaac, as it says in verse six of the story carried the wood for the sacrifice on his back. Just as God provided the lamb for the sacrifice back in the day of Abraham and Isaac, so he would provide the lamb for the sacrifice when Jesus climbed the mountain with the wood of the sacrifice on his back. What we can add to this is that just as Abraham’s faith was rewarded with the establishment of a new covenant, a new relationship with God, Jesus’ faith would be rewarded with the establishment of a new covenant, a new relationship with God.
The point for us today is that God is aware of our faith. He knows how often we struggle to believe. Abraham did not want to sacrifice his son, yet he still trusted in God. Jesus cried during the agony in the garden for his Father to free him from the terrible suffering he was going to endure, but he still trusted in God. How about us? God sees us praying to him. He knows we want to grow closer to him. At the same time, he sees how our faith is continually tested by the turmoil of our lives.
It is easy for us to believe and be people of faith when all is going well and we are happy. It is easy to believe, to be people of faith, when we are enjoying our family, our children, our lives. It’s easy to believe, to be people of faith, when we leave Church feeling warm and deeply moved. But faith is difficult when we are in turmoil. When relationships meant to be growing and nurturing, such as marriage, become bitter and end up destructive, when children push people to the edge, when jobs that we don’t even like are in jeopardy, then faith is difficult. It is difficult to believe in God when we or a loved one is sick, or worse, when a loved one has passed away. God knows how often we are just plain angry, angry with him for the difficulties of our lives. He knows that sometimes we become so angry that we even doubt his existence. He knows that sometimes we wonder if he really cares. God knows how often we feel weak in our faith, but he also knows that we do want to have faith. “I do believe,” said the man whose son had epilepsy and whom the disciples could not cure. “I do believe,” the man said, “but help my unbelief.” God sees us as people of faith who are begging him to help us grow in faith.
When times of turmoil take over our lives, we think of the covenant with Abraham, the covenant of faith. Abraham trusted that God would find a way to reward him for his faith. And God did reward him. And he does reward us for our faith.
When the disciples, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured on the Mountain and Elijah and Moses with him, they wanted to erect booths. They felt so overwhelmed by the experience that they did not want it to end. “It is good for us to be here,” Peter exclaimed. We all feel the same way when we have a religious experience. We do not want it to end. But Jesus told the disciples and tells us that glory comes only after we understand what to rise from the dead means. We cannot fully celebrate the Glory of the Lord until we share in his passion, his death, his sacrifice. Our faith is tested like Abraham’s faith and like Jesus’ faith. We are called to give our best to the Lord and trust him to transform the sacrifice into a new covenant far greater than we could ever imagine.
If God is for us, St. Paul tells the Romans and us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son for us, will prevent the forces of evil from attacking us. This includes those forces within us to tear us away from the Lord. God is for us. God is with us.
May we have the faith of Abraham to trust in God even in the most difficult situations.