Saturday, September 6, 2008
Eighth after Pentecost, 2008
Rebecca at the Well, Francesco Solimena, 1720
July 6, 2008 VIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 9A) Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67
One of the great things about our new “Revised Common Lectionary” is that we get these expanded stories from the Old Testament. Some of them are a little long, as this one is this morning. But they are rich and compelling. And this unfolding of the stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is just endlessly fascinating.
For those who think of the Bible as an anthology of genealogies punctuated here and there with obscure ceremonial directives and the occasional proclamation of moral imperatives, these stories can be eye-openers. Human life in all its messy, wonderful, dramatic complexity, and its flesh and blood, sometimes harsh, sometimes incredibly tender particularity. Real people you love and hate—and sometimes who can be so frustrating you feel like sending them an urgent e-mail across the centuries to talk some sense into them. Abraham@HebrewPatriarchs.org.
In any case, this morning, one of my favorites, for all kinds of reasons, and the opening of one of the most lovely love stories in any literature anywhere. Young Isaac needs to find a wife, and old Eleazar, Abraham's servant, goes out with a prayer and finds her, on day one, there at the well. What Hollywood writers call, "meet cute." The camels carry the party back home, Isaac sees them coming. Their eyes connect, his and hers, across the distance, and Cupid’s arrows zing through the air. Love at first sight. Destiny. Just the best two people you’d ever know anywhere, and perfect for each other. You'd want Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the film version. She is the answer to his prayers . . . literally. A marriage made in heaven, as the author of the story is not shy about reminding us.
Because all this set not in the context of a daytime soap opera, but at the heart of the biblical proclamation of Salvation History. This is how God works to shape a people for himself, to lay the foundation of a priestly nation, a Holy Temple, and to prepare the way for the Savior of the World. A little romance for a summer Sunday.
And I love it that the designers of the Revised Lectionary offer this beautiful passage from Psalm 45 as our Psalm this morning. But even more, to see as we look at our service leaflet insert that there is offered as an alternative this love song from the Song of Solomon, which is in my experience lately the reading that is rapidly replacing I Corinthians 13 as the most popular reading at weddings. “My beloved calls to me, ‘Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away, for now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, and the time of singing has come . . . . Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away.” It could be Isaac singing to Rebecca at the doorway of their marriage tent. And in the earliest traditions of Christian Biblical interpretation and commentary, the words as well allegorically of Christ, calling in all tenderness and passion and compassion to his Bride, his Holy Church. “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
The story is one that almost might make us blush to read it. So personal, so intimate. Yet it is a story for us. The way mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, might share the story of their meeting and falling in love with the kids, in the midst of much giggling and wonder. There’s a t.v. show: “How I Met Your Mother.” I remember hearing the story of how my grandparents met, when I was maybe 8 or 9, and it just seemed incredible to me. Was it truly possible that these elderly, these ancient characters could ever have felt the storms and energy of youth? I mean, they must have been 60! But at the same time, such important stories, one generation following another, following another, and how we gradually find ourselves understanding in a deep way who we are, where we come from.
And this morning it’s grandpa Isaac, grandma Rebecca, impossibly young, alive, burning with romance and desire, two hearts beating as one, and in it all, the fulfillment of God’s plan, for them, and for us, as the path is cleared in the wilderness, the love song echoing down the millennia. From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and to that silent night and holy night in the Bethlehem stable, where Christ the Savior is born. The family story, the family romance, and for us and for our children as well.
The great Eucharistic offering is so often pictured as a banquet, a foretaste of the heavenly Table, and this morning for us, an invitation to a Wedding Feast. The bread and wine of celebration.
His body broken for us, his blood poured out for us, to open the door for us all to the new life of joy and peace and celebration that our Father has had in mind for us from the beginning of time. A friend of mine wrote in his blog recently about the work of the renewal of the Church, which is of course a perennial occupation, and he wrote about “calling the Church back to its first love.” Which is always the right word to use. We love, because he first loved us. Because having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And opened the door by way of his cross to a new creation of grace and healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. “O love, how deep, how broad, how high.”
A toast then, this morning, for Isaac and Rebecca, all true love, two people made for each other, and love at first sight. May their tribe increase, generation upon generation, as God’s loving and gracious plan embraces the world he calls back to himself. With blessings and joy. Here’s to them, and to the good life we will share with them, forever.