Friday, April 15, 2022
By: David May, Rector
So, I don’t want to think about it – the brokenness of this world, that’s happening right now. I don’t want to imagine it. But this is Good Friday – the one day out of all the rest when I think we should at least try to be honest – to the extent that we can; and put down every explanation and rationalization, every excuse and all the words of denial and avoidance I conjure up to try to make things make sense – like who’s at fault, like who’s to blame, who his guilty and who is innocent. None of those things holds water on Good Friday. It is the one day, at least, to take a deep breath and open our eyes and try to stay awake with Jesus.
Which is hard to do. It is hard to stop talking and stop thinking about all the things we talk about and think about to make sense of this broken, disordered world.
But I’ve noticed, over the years, that this ancient story we just heard about father Abraham has a kind of power to make all my words and excuses fall silent. It is a story not one of us would ever think up on our own. None of us would ever say such things about God and none of us would say such things about a father and a son. It is inconceivable, impossible. Only God could conceive and speak such a word; a word that is as irresolvable as flint and steel; a word that has the power to stop our mouths.
Hearing this story is like taking a sounding at sea. A sounding is when you drop a line from a boat and let it out til it hits the bottom so you know how deep the water is that you’re in. At first we let it out an arm length at a time thinking we will hit the bottom soon. When we don’t, we let it free fall for a while – the rope singing on the bulwark. But the weighted end finds no bottom. And we watch the coiled rope on the deck grow smaller and smaller til to our horror, the last length skitters over the edge and is lost in the depths. And we know that somewhere down there in the great fathomless depths in the black dark where no sunlight will ever come, it is still falling. There is no bottom to this. The only thing we can do, is fall silent, and watch the wind blow across the face of the deep.
The father and his son walk out from where they have been camped with the other men. Only the boy and his father will go on from here. Which is of course a point of enormous pride for the boy. Now, he is not quite a boy anymore. He is by his father’s side on his way to becoming a man.
He remembers his mother saying good-bye a few days before. She still treats him like he is a baby, squeezing him good-bye and kissing him in front of other people, heedless of his embarrassment. ‘You stay close to your father,’ she had said when he looked back one last time to wave good-bye. And then she had cried out one last time, ‘stay close to your father!’
This boy,Isaac, is a boy, but right on the verge of becoming a young man. He is the miracle child, the apple of his mother and father’s eye. He is the long-waited for answer to a prayer. He is the boy who finally came to the childless couple so late in life – so late – when there was no longer room for anything like a reasonable hope that he would ever come. He is a miracle; something, someone whom only God can give.
The boy and his father set off alone, leaving behind the other men. His father even lets him carry the wood. He is not a baby anymore; he is strong enough to bear the wood. At least his father knows this even if his mother still treats him like one. His father carries the fire and the knife. He’s not a baby, but he’s not quite old enough to carry these dangerous items – he could get hurt.
His father is a great man – everyone knows that. He is a giant in the boy’s eyes and he finds himself cinching his belt just like he sees his father doing. Today he is his father’s son – he feels that in a brand new way today.
But then he realizes that his father has overlooked something. His father always knows everything, always is in charge, always is prepared. The boy feels a sting of embarrassment that his father would forget something so important. Should he dare to say something? If he says something, will his father take offense? Will he himself take offense?
He looks up to his father and sees his face as familiar and trustworthy as ever and knows he can say anything to him.
‘Father,’ he says.
‘Here I am my son,’ his father replies as always.
‘The fire and the wood we have,’ the boy says, ‘but where is the lamb?’
Where is the lamb? Where is the sacrifice? Where is the thing that sets everything right? That brings light into the endless, remorseless darkness.
The boy asked that question long ago, buried in a depth from us that no line we have can fathom. Yet, it is buried deep in each of us, found at some unimaginable depth. You come to the edge of this very deep place and look down into a place where there is no bottom. As Nietzsche said, ‘when you look into the abyss, remember the abyss is looking into you’. You know that it is there. You know that there must be a sacrifice. Surely there must be something that can be done to set all things right. If not, then there is no hope and this is a world where the immeasurable abyss is always looking into us.
As if by second nature, we know that things are not the way that they are supposed to be, that we are not the way we are supposed to be. And we set out to make that right. There must be some sacrifice to offer, some price to pay to square the ledger, to wipe the slate clean. If we don’t do it, then who will. Who will right the wrongs?
And so we try to make the sacrifice. We sacrifice ourselves. And we sacrifice others. Sometimes it is very subtle stuff – but deadly nonetheless. If I just bleed enough, someday, someday I will have bled enough to pay, and not have to make an excuse for just being in this world.
And, we sacrifice each other. Sometimes brutally and concretely, but often in subtle almost invisible ways – as if it’s in the very structures of who we are. If I am to be good, then someone else has to be bad. If I am going to heaven, then it’s only worth something if someone else is damned to hell. If I am to feel good about myself, then that goodness must be paid for by demonizing (literally) someone else. My rightness stands upon your being wrong. The fact that you are wrong vindicates me.
There is a remorseless, endless arithmetic to it all that seems inescapable. That is inescapable. Try going through the day without feeling pride about what a good and considerate driver you are in the light of how miserable everyone else is behind the wheel. Or the thousand, thousand other examples you can think of. It’s endless this search for a sacrifice to offer.
It is the sin of the world.
Something must be given to God to bring favor. If I pay out enough of this line, surely it must hit the bottom sometime.
Good people. We do not have enough line to hit the bottom.
That is what needs to be said today.
Abraham and his son, his only son, the one whom he loved; his son, Isaac comes with his father to the place that God will show them. The boy is bound and laid on the wood. Ancient Abraham grips the flinty knife and prepares to destroy the boy and himself with it for God.
All of our desires to set things right come to their ultimate conclusion on that mount. We are taken to that place today to see this, and to hear God say: “I myself will provide the sacrifice.” I myself.
On another day, on another hill, another son, God’s only Son, the one whom he loves is bound to the wood, and falls into the unfathomable depths. Falling, fallen, made to be sin for us who knew no sin, plumbing the depths of all that is. Finally, finally in his death reaching the very bottom, to make the sacrifice, for us. Amen.