“I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing.”
In the second week of Lent we turn to Abraham’s blessing in Genesis 12.
As we consider Abraham’s blessing, let’s remember that the Lenten journey is not only about our journey with Jesus to the cross. It is also an annual dress rehearsal for our own death. In this sense, Lent is about the practice of “letting go,” dying little deaths so that we are ready for the big one.
These dress rehearsals help us relax into the final “letting go” with the same deep trust that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Jesus models for us that there is goodness at the base of it all and that God is in no way ruled or run by death, which is why we can pass through death unafraid.
Unfortunately, for many in our network every day of the year is a relentless dress rehearsal. This is why the primal blessing given to Abraham is so essential. Without it we are lost in a sea of anxiety and crippling fear that disfigures and distorts our own mortality. It is in this context that we consider our Lenten blessing.
First, in Hebrew the word “blessing” is berakhah. It means to bow on bended knee and adore something. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God kneels in adoration of three things: the sea creatures (vs.1:22), humanity (vs. 1:28), and the Seventh Day (vs. 2:3). Yes, three primal blessings: creation, humanity and the Sabbath, which is the restful realization that all is good – nay, VERY GOOD. God kneels before all of creation that we might one day do the same.
In this week’s lectionary, God blesses Abraham in the context of a call. God says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Notice how God’s blessing invites Abraham to let go in two directions – the past (country, kindred, and home) and the uncertain, un-seeable future (“a land that I will show you”).
God’s blessing is a bridge for Abraham. It holds the space between what was and what will be. God’s blessing is the sacrament of the present moment that redeems both past and future. During Lent we are especially attentive to this sacrament.
Several years ago in Guatemala I was a guest at a Bible study on the outskirts of the city. The Bible study leader leaned over and whispered into my ear, “The young lady in the corner wants you to bless her eight-year-old daughter.” He also whispered that the little girl’s father was recently killed and they both were grieving (a horrific past and uncertain future). Her father had been a notorious gang assassin who had murdered more than 200 rival gang members.
We gathered around the young mother, bent our knees, and laid hands on her daughter. Completely untethered from all except the sacrament of that present moment, we blessed the little girl. We blessed her with the same blessing I give my kids at night as I sit on their bed, tuck them in, and trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, saying,
Christ be with you. Christ within you.
Christ behind you. Christ before you.
Christ beside you. Christ to win you.
Christ to comfort and restore you.
Christ beneath you. Christ above you.
Christ in quiet and in danger.
Christ in hearts of those who love you.
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
~ St. Patrick
Photo: Phil Whitehouse