Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter – “This is the Night”

The Sacrifice of Isaac (mid-1750s) by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 – 1804)

In her book, When God is Silent, author and Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor speaks to clergy about preaching.  At one point she addresses how we should go about preaching on some of the more difficult passages, such as the one we read: the sacrifice of Isaac.  Barbara says, that the Bible is full “of such raw and powerful stories.  Maybe we should preach more of them and where they are obscure, troubling, or incomplete, perhaps we should leave them that way.  Who are we, after all, to defend God?… The discord—like the silence—is God’s problem, not ours.  When we try to solve it, we are no longer being courteous.” (p.115-116)

When it comes to her advice and that passage of scripture of Abraham and Isaac, very few have taken Barbara’s advice.  They launch into long explanations of how this is only a myth and not an actual event or attempt to break down Abraham’s thought process or the psychology of Isaac or anything else so as to avoid or distract us from what the story tells us.  I’m guilty of all of the above because when taken at face value, all that remains is God telling Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”  Abraham did not argue or weep or bargain.  He was obedient.  In the end, because of his obedience, Isaac was saved.  In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul summarizes what took place and how it was viewed, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son.”

We can finagle, whitewash, and analyze the incident all we want to make it easier to swallow, but the Scripture itself is clear: God tested Abraham by asking him to deliver his son up as a burnt offering so that God could determine whether or not Abraham was faithful.  

I do not believe that there is a parent in the room who would even consider it.  In fact, I believe that every single one of us—parent or not—would fail that test.  We would unapologetically tell God, likely in some rather colorful language, “No!  What you ask is impossible.”  If that were the end of it, we would all be lost, but Jesus refuses to lose us.  

Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  

Jesus says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  

Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  

Jesus says, “It is finished.”

“This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” 

In order to prove our faith, we will never be called upon to sacrifice anyone or anything, for this is the night that the sacrifice that was made once and for all restores us to God. 

Alleluia.  Christ is Risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

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