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hg. von Ulrich Nembach und Johannes Neukirch
Date: 21. März 1999
Genesis 22, 1-13
Author: Doris Gräb
|I ask myself, can we really accept this account of a
father ready to sacrifice his long awaited and longed for
child. I am sure that I am not the only one who has
doubts about it.
Terrible and repulsive, from the archaic depth of the history of mankind as well as the development of the human soul, is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.
Rembrandt tried over and over again to work out and portray the scene. In his last painting from 1655, the angels, Abraham and Isaac almost melt into one being. Abrahams right hand, in actual fact the extended arm of the angel, protects Isaac, whereas in his left hand the knife is raised. So close, therefore, is life and death in our hands, in Abrahams hands and in those of many of others through thousands of years.
Obedience to the point of destruction. The order to exterminate and then, at last, one or more are saved, because one, whoever or whatever it is, falls into the executioner's arm. Who then? An angel? Or coincidence?
Terrible and repulsive, an archaic downfall and yet this story is full of drama. One of the greatest tales of world literature ever told,
masterly constructed and leading to an unmistakable climax. But what then? I believe both are right, both correspond to our feelings:
Cruel as well as full of feeling, mysterious as well as understandable.
Abraham, the father of faith, unconditionally obedient, and yet protecting. But what now? How does this chronicle progress? Good or bad, pleasant or awful? Or even more than that, more meaningful layers that we recognise from hearing this story for the first time. I would like to go with you, through one of the many obvious and possible ways of interpretation. To go with you on Abrahams godforsaken way, or so it must have seemed to him, suddenly abandoned by everyone, God included.
"Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering ..."
What feelings would have erupted from this demand. Emotions, desires, accusations, questions and the despair of not wanting it to be true. It cannot be true, up till then everything had been so good. There were so many reasons to be contented with life and to be proud of what one had achieved. A son as well as property, wealth and benediction. And above all, the future. What I have begun will carry on, all that I have achieved will not be in vain. Everything will be just as it was. How well off I am and how much is promised to me. And then this violation. Everything that before appeared so safe, is now in question.
"Take thy son, thine only son, whom thy lovest ... and go ... and sacrifice him".
A whole world falls apart. He, who knew he was so richly blessed, was suddenly deprived of all that was dear to him, thrown into a godforsaken abyss. It must be awful for one to hear that they should lay on the altar and let go of what their heart holds dear. Dreadful for those who had gone through life in a safe and pleasant way, assuming that the ground one was standing on was safe, until it suddenly gave way. Can what I am hearing, really be true? What now? And where do we go from here? The soul, it is said, goes slowly to a state of being godforsaken. The mind will start working again sometime and does what has to be done, to do that is ordered is the next most obvious thing, just as Abraham did.
"And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son ..."
Really, this is where the way to godforsakeness begins. Why for Christ's sake? What have I done to deserve this? What does God want from me? So many questions and just as many attempts at answers. Is He trying to test me and if so, why? What is the point? Not seldom are they helpless attempts to see sense, in senseless intrusions in our lives. Helpless and sometimes too quick, too superficial. There has to be a reason, even if at the moment I cannot see it. He will have His reasons, such a test cannot be for nothing. Small, self implanted lights on the way to being godforsaken. The cryptic senselessness would otherwise be unbearable. To give up a loved one intentionally, deliberately, the most treasured thing in ones life, laid before the altar and sacrificed. The longer the way, the deeper the truth pushes into the soul and so greater the feeling of being godforsaken.
Abraham plans the next step carefully, the servant and the donkey should not be present. He goes on alone with Isaac, the part of his life that he has to give up, deeper into loneliness.
Who would not prefer to have his thoughts turned to Jesus in Getsmani? Once, twice and then a third time Jesus leaves the sleeping disciples and goes off to an un-inhabited place, alone with his fears. There, where the way is obscured by darkness, at most the silent scream "My God, why have you forsaken me?"
What do you command from me? Is it not possible that I will be spared again? And there, on the outskirts, in deepest wretchedness, an angel. An angel who hinders the worst, who stopped Abraham at the last minute from slaughtering his son. A light at the end of the tunnel, unfortunately not always, in our godforsaken journey. Or else the faint traces of comfort are not taken seriously. Hiob, who after a long silence, eventually found his voice again. Jesus, who said "Not as I will, but as you will". Elijah, who in his despair of death, had his eyes opened by an angel, so that he could see the obvious: tasty bread and fresh water, in the middle of the desert.
A friendly word, a loving gesture, an unexpected phone call are all experiences that break through the feeling of being godforsaken. Angels take on different faces and forms and have the capability to fight against the dark and evil, when they help one to prepare and take the first protected steps back into life.
There, a ram caught in the thicket, by his horns, takes Isaac's place as the sacrifice. A new life given after going through the hell of the gruelling test. So ends the cruel and repellent, highly dramatic and wonderful story of Isaac's sacrifice and Abrahams way to being godforsaken.
Certainly a thorn remains, not all downfallen ways through life end in this way, there isn't always an angel waiting for us, to break through the darkness. How often must people give up their loved ones, if not always willingly. They have to let go, although they can hardly bring themselves to do it. How often do our ways end in godforsaken despair and downfall? But yes, the message of our story is quite different and want to take it with us this Sunday in the form of an angel, in the middle of the deepest darkness, who is suddenly before us and gives us life.
Pray to God that such an angel awaits us at the end of our heavily burdened and lonely way.
With the words from the psalm for this Sunday
"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance."
Pastorin Doris Gräb, Raseweg 2, 37124 Rosdorf, Tel.: 0551-781372
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