The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, by You great goodness mercifully look upon Your people that we may be governed and preserved evermore in bod and soul;
through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Garrison Keeler once said, "For Lutherans, it's always Lent." While he was making a joke about the dour nature of so many German immigrants, sometimes it can feel like Lent drags on forever. One way that the Church "breaks up" the season of Lent is by using the liturgy to reflect the darkness that covered the world when Christ died (Luke 23:44).
During the season of Lent, we've taken away the Alleluias and the Gloria in Excelsis. Now, the Fifth Sunday of Lent - which marks the beginning of Passiontide -- sees more fall away from our liturgy: we no longer include the "Glory be to the Father," after the Psalm, and the Nunc Dimittis is no longer sung after Holy Communion.
In some parts of Christianity, all images of Christ are covered with veils during the Gospel Reading, reflecting that Christ "hides Himself" until His Glory is revealed on Good Friday.
Artwork: The Stoning of Christ. The artist is unknown, but this woodcut was made in Germany around the year 1440. While most woodcuts are just ink, this was one was painted by hand after it was pressed. It can be found at the National Gallery of Art (www.nga.gov)
The Old Testament
This story begins "God tested Abraham." When we confess in the small catechism that "God tempts no one," what we mean is that God tempts no one to sin. God was not encouraging Abraham to sin, but testing his faith.
Note that the response of Abraham to God in verse 1 is the same as his response to Isaac in verse 7 and to the angel in verse 11.
Abraham likely didn't know the depth of his words "God will provide for himself the lamb" (verse 8)
Rabbinic tradition says that this mountain is where the Temple was built. Some non-Christian commentators also make Isaac about 30 years old at this time.
The name of the place "The Lord will provide" can also be translated as "The Lord Will See." (Hebrew: YHWH Yir'eh). The Greek translation of Genesis and all early English translations of the Bible render it some version of "will see.". The idea of God not only providing but "seeing" harmonizes beautifully with God "disappearing" in the Gospel reading.
The author here may be playing on the tradition that Isaac was bound on the altar near the Temple Mount, or possibly on Golgotha where Christ was crucified. See verse 12.
Covenant (dia-THEY-kay) can also be translated "testament," and so we should think not only of the written testimony of Christ, but also the New Covenant in His Blood that He instituted on the night He was betrayed.
The Holy Gospel
When Jesus says "I am," He is not merely stating that He exists, but invoking the Name of the Lord revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). In Greek, Jesus says eg-GO ay-MEE. While this could be a way to say "I am," it is a clunky and uncommon way of speaking. So too, that the Jews take up stones to throw at Him demonstrates that they believed He was speaking the Name of the Lord: Yahweh or perhaps Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (Exodus 3:14). With this understanding Jesus, in no uncertain terms, claims to be the LORD who spoke to Moses and to Abraham, the same LORD who tested Abraham and provided a Lamb for the sacrifice.
Poetry Used in the Liturgy of Judica
Psalm 43- The name of this Sunday, Judica, is a remnant of when the church spoke Latin. While we being our worship "Vindicate me, O God," the Latin-speaking Church began, "Judica me, Deus." This is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew shafteni which means "judge." Our English translation "Vindicate me," is a little softer than the original, though it is theologically true: when we ask God to judge us on account of His Son, we are praying that we be vindicated.
Psalm 143- Curiously, this Psalm also invokes judgment (mishfat), but now we pray that the Lord not enter into judgment! Here comes the confession of humility, that no one living is righteous before God. The prayers for God's mercy is concluded beautifully at the end: "I am your servant."
Psalm 18- Now our fear is not heavenward, but toward the earth. When we find ourselves delivered from our enemies (as David was from Saul), we rejoice that God has preserved us and shown Love to His people.
Psalm 129- Traditionally called a "Song of Ascents," this psalm would have been prayed while the faithful were ascending the mountain to worship at Zion. Tradition also tells us that the Temple Mount was the same place that Isaac was sacrificed. How beautiful to think that Isaac and Abraham walked up the mountain praying, only to be saved by the blood of another; the Israelites would pray walking up the same mountain, only to be saved by the blood of another; we pray this as we "ascend" the mountain of Church, giving thanks that we have been saved by the blood of Another.
My Song is Love Unknown by Samuel Crossman
A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth by Paul Gerhardt
Artwork: The Sacrifice of Isaac, Attributed to the weaving workshop funded by William Sheldon. Netherlandish, probably made between 1561 and 1613. On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 10
Further Reading & Listening
Artwork: Lamb, Italian, Naples. second half 18th century