I started writing this blog a while ago, following an excellent seminar by Professor Susan Docherty at the Margaret Beaufort Institute, looking at the rewritings of the Old Testament. This was an excellent introduction to the other literature that has been discovered that enriches and expands our understanding of the Old Testament. One of the texts we looked at tackled that difficult and complex text where Abraham to all intents and purposes seems to be wholly set on sacrificing his own son. The wonderings and discussion in the seminar set me thinking and reflecting again on this, to be honest, horrific text of child sacrifice. For anyone like me who has worked with children in any capacity, the safeguarding bells start ringing loud and clear.
I have always been annoyed with Abraham in this text – did he really think that God, who had promised him that he would be the father of many nations, would ask him to sacrifice his only son? Abraham wasn’t afraid of God, after all, he stood up to God, challenged God and made God back down so that the people of Sodom were saved. Why didn’t Abraham answer God back and say NO – he was quite capable of doing so. Maybe, I am starting from the wrong place here, because maybe what we need to think about is Abraham’s relationship with God in a different way. Maybe what we have to understand is just how much Abraham loved God. That isn’t something that I have thought about before, but love must have something to do with it. Why else would Abraham up sticks and move his entire family through the desert to eventually settle in a corner of the desert that didn’t seem to offer much apart from lots of grains of sand and a specular view of the stars in the sky at night. Why else would Abraham and Sarah agree to having their names changed? Why else would Abraham receive guests and treat them as Angels, if not out of love. So when the Person who you love most of all, asks of you the impossible, the incredible and the most difficult thing to do of all – to sacrifice that which is most precious to you, then maybe, as Abraham did, you have to do so, because in faith, in very human terms, that is what you feel completely called to give to the One you love the most, the One who is your all and your everything. So in faith and love, Abraham stepped out with his son, ready to offer up the most precious thing that he had, holding onto the faith that God would provide a lamb for the burnt offering. I always feel that the Angel intervenes in the nick of time, a second later and all would have been lost.
And now COVID-19 has arrived and has thrown our worlds completely upside and made me think even more about sacrifice and the sacrifices that are happening right now everyday as the world works at coming to grips with the pandemic. There are the sacrifices made by those who everyday see those they hold most dear, their wives, husbands, sons and daughters, go into their work in hospitals, care homes, vital delivery services, food shops. There are the sacrifices made by those volunteering to ensure people are fed, contacted, reached out to in times of crisis. There are those for whom staying at home is a sacrifice because it is not a place of safety, it is a place of fear. There are those who behind the scenes who are working as hard as they can to hold everything together. There are those who on a daily basis are faced with a ‘viral load’ of infection and anxiety and yet they still go on.
And we who are doing our bit by Staying at Home, fasting from what we hold most dear – be that meeting up with friends and family, being part of a worshipping community, fasting from the sacraments, we maybe need to see that our fasting is part of the greater sacrifices being made. Maybe we can offer these small sacrifices up, praying as we do so for the daily sacrifices others are making on our behalf. And through our offering up, let us remember, that all isn’t lost. The redemption song of the covenant continues, for there was another Father who realised that the only thing that he could offer to those he so loved, loved with all his heart was his own Son. And this time, the Son was put to death, for God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son. God’s once for all sacrifice means that our sacrifices here and now have meaning, for maybe this year, this is how we can enter into living Holy Week, knowing that there will be a time when we come out of this and believing that in all of this God’s Glory is being revealed.
Written by Sue Price, Pastoral Outreach Coordinator at the Margaret Beaufort Institute and doctoral student with Anglia Ruskin. Her topic is ‘Hearing the Silent Speak: An exploration into the silent spirituality of disabled children’.