“Abraham’s Burial,” Jean de Tournes (c. 1550)
This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. Genesis 25:7-10
We have been on a journey this Lent that now comes to an end. This story of the great patriarch and matriarch of our faith finishes quietly, at a grave. Jesus of Nazareth would have known this story by heart. It was part of the Hebrew Scriptures that he, as a Jew, would have held sacred and looked to for hope.
On this day when we celebrate the resurrection of the Christ, we put to rest Abraham and Sarah. They were ordinary, imperfect people plucked out of their everyday lives by God to play a greater part in the ongoing creation story. They often lived up to the task, and yet sometimes they failed. They are our spiritual ancestors, and we can be thankful for their example.
O God, glory to your name! Hallelujah for the risen Christ! Amen.
“Landscape with the Wedding of Isaac and Rebecca,” Claude Lorrain (1648)
Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Genesis 24:63-67
Remember, the name “Isaac” means “laughter.” Rick Morley tells us that the English translation obscures a humorous element to the story: “For when Rebekah is making her way into town, Isaac is off in the field. Doing something. It’s hard to tell exactly what it is, (there’s a surprising amount of scholarly controversy over this) but it’s apparently pretty embarrassing, because when Rebekah sees Isaac…doing whatever it was he was doing…she literally “falls off” her camel. Yep, it was that bad. And then she asks the question. They question we all knew she’d ask. The question that she knew the answer to before she even opened her mouth. ‘Who is the man over there?’ ‘Oh, him? That’s Isaac. Your soon-to-be-husband.’ And with final comic punctuation, she covers her face with her veil.”
God, on this day when we await the resurrection of the Christ, I thank you for a bit of laughter
“Rebecca Begins Her Journey to Canaan” (mid-12th century)
Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since God has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Genesis 24:55-61
Rebekah does get some say in whether she will leave her family behind to marry a man she has never met. Scholars are unsure whether consulting the potential bride about her wishes would have been unusual in that time. Regardless, the future nation of Israel – a people that would someday include Jesus of Nazareth in its ranks – is still on course.
Rebekah made a huge sacrifice in giving up everything she had every known to travel far away and probably never see any of her family or friends again. On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus made an even bigger sacrifice, and he did it for us.
A BIT MORE
Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman considers how far Jewish women have come since her own bat mitzvah.
Abba God, thank you for the gift of your son. I am humbled to think of what he did for me. Amen.
“Rebecca and Eleazer,” Sebastien Bourdon (1664-1669)
Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. … Then food was set before him to eat; but he said, “I will not eat until I have told my errand.” He said, “Speak on.” … Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing comes from God; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as God has spoken.” When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before God. Genesis 24:28-20, 33, 50-52
This story is difficult to hear with 21st-century ears because women in ancient times were considered property, first of the father (or brothers, if the father is dead), and then of the husband. If we can look past the patriarchal culture, we can find a deeper truth: God worked through our imperfect human systems to bring two people together.
God still works through our imperfect and sometimes-broken systems to nudge us a little closer to the full Kingdom of God. We do a service to God when we are attentive to and cooperate with God’s leadership.
O Great Leader, may we hear your call and follow your light. Amen.
“Rebecca and Eleazer,” Bartolome Esteban Murillo (c. 1650)
When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped God and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, God has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.” Genesis 24:22-27
For the servant, the fact that he has happened upon the perfect wife for Isaac is no mere coincidence. He gives all credit to God for leading him to this place and to Rebekah.
How often do we chalk up to “coincidence” something that God may have engineered?
A BIT MORE
Geoff McElroy: “For some strange reason, God has made us partners in this promise to the world, that the world might be redeemed and that peace and mercy and justice would come to reign in the hearts of the people of this world. I don’t understand it, because God works through the people (that is, us) that are part of the problem in the first place. But at the same time, we often find ourselves surprised time and again what God can and will do when we try to be faithful.”
O Great Planner, may I immerse myself in the “coincidences” you arrange for me. Amen.