After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
This has long been one of my favorite texts. That makes it so much harder for reflection. It's too familiar. My go-to reflection for this text is the odd "handshake" between God and Abram. The covenant of unequals. God says, "I'm going to make a covenant with you... but I'm God and you're not. So, you set it all up and then go take a nap.
And so Abram does his part - setting up the sacrifice. And then takes a nap. God - in the form of a flaming torch does the handshake all alone. The handshake in this case was the walking between the two pieces of the sacrifice - back and forth - symbolic of the broken relationship that they will have if their covenant is broken.
A flaming torch? I can't help it but that part is meant for a cartoon version of Genesis. And who wrote it down if Abram was sleeping. And if he took a peak while sleeping, what did he see? And if he saw a flaming torch, without a person carrying it, wouldn't he think, "My Lord, what did you put in my drink?"
But this time reading it through, my mind was drawn to the sunset. "When the sun had gone down..." The end of one day and the beginning of another. For the Hebrew person, the modern day Jew even, the day begins at sundown.
A brand new day, start over. A clear slate? Did Abram experience this covenant as a new day? A new day is a gift. Often a new day comes with new understanding or clarity. But a lot of new days come with baggage from the old days. And I'm just wondering how did Abram navigate the baggage? So much of the journey with God is about letting go and taking up. Letting go of the old and taking up the new. Letting go of sin that entangles and taking up the "cross" daily. As exciting as this "handshake" must've been for Abram, it came with a responsibility of any agreement. It came with the need to let go of one thing in order to take up another.
I've often struggled with Lenten practices of "giving things up" because it lacks the other half of the bargain - taking things up. If we let go of one thing, one habit, one practice, one activity, what do we do with the empty "hand?" God figured out how to shake Abram's hand. I bet God would figure out how to shake ours too... if we wanted to covenant.
The photographs in this reflection are available Here.
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