Homily for March 1

The 21 Egyptian Christians just before they were beheaded

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for Homily

What do you make of that story about Abraham, Isaac and God?
Which is more difficult for us to understand:
that God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son?
or that Abraham would accede to God’s request?

Neither is something we can easily comprehend, let alone accept.
We can’t imagine a loving God asking such sacrifice of a father
and we can’t imagine a loving father saying yes to such a request.

But let’s be careful to make no judgment on God or Abraham.
We can be confident that the Lord is a loving God
 (in the happy ending, Isaac is spared)
and we can be equally confident that Abraham was a loving father
whose heart was breaking as he prepared to do
what God had asked of him.

Our problem with the story may come
if we can’t imagine a love for God
greater than our love of anything else,
if we can’t imagine a love for God
greater than our love for any-one else.

Let’s fast-forward some 3,000 years to February 15, 2015.
On that day, two weeks ago, in Libya,
21 Egyptian men were gruesomely slain –
for being Christian and for refusing to renounce their faith.

In photos, these men appear to be young , in their 20’s and 30’s.
Their last words were, “Ya Rabbi Yasou!”  -  “Jesus, my Lord!”

Just as knowing young Isaac’s name in today’s scripture
makes it more personal for us,
I believe that knowing the names of these 21 men might do the same.
They were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends to others.
And they were:
and one identified only as “a worker from Awr village.”

I think of this last one as we think of the soldier buried
in the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery.
The “worker from Awr village”
stands for all the unnamed who were martyred before him
and all the unnamed who will be martyred after him
because, for sure, the bloodshed is not yet over.

Reporters interviewed Beshir Kamel, brother of two of the 21 martyrs.
Beshir said how grateful he was that the video of the gory execution
had not edited out the men’s calling on the name of Jesus,
just before they died:
 “Ya Rabbi Yasou!”  -  “Jesus, my Lord!”
He was grateful, he said,
because hearing that cry strengthened his faith.

He said his mother, who lost two sons,
had been asked what she would do
if she encountered one of these murderous militants on the street.
She said,
“I would ask him into my home and ask God to open his eyes
to see that he was the reason my sons are in heaven.”

Here is faith that may be as difficult for us to understand
as it is for us to understand Abraham’s faith in God.

And let us be careful to make no judgment on Beshir and his mother.
We can be absolutely confident that they deeply grieve
the loss of two beloved sons, brothers.

You and I cannot even begin to imagine
what such a loss might mean,
how it might feel, what it might do to us.

But neither, perhaps, can you and I begin to imagine
their faith and their love for God,
so deep and consuming that it comes before all else
and embraces their deepest loss and suffering,
enlarging the human heart and reaching depths in their souls
you and I have yet come to know or even begun to search for.

Lent is a time for us to stop and consider our faith,
and our love for God.
It’s a time to weigh how our love for God
balances in the scales with our love for so many things,
even with our love for those closest to us.

Lent is a time to look at Abraham, Isaac
and the 21 martyrs in Libya
and to remember that their faith and love of God above all else
is the very faith and love to which each of us is called.    
When asked what is the greatest commandment,
what did Jesus answer?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.  (Mt 22:37)

Simple things like fasting, and abstaining from meat on Fridays,
and “giving up” whatever we’re giving up this Lent
(things we sometimes groan about as if we were martyrs…)
these practices are designed, in very small ways,
to help us begin to measure, help us “take the temperature”
of our faith in God, our love for God.

Such Lenten exercises can help us remember
that the comforts and pleasures of this life
(even the most loving relationships we have in this life)
will one day come to an end.
And then, we will stand alone, before God, with nothing in hand
save the contents of our hearts,
and we will hope to be welcomed into the company of God’s beloved,
into the company of those 21 men who prayed with their last breath:
 “Ya Rabbi Yasou!”  -  “Jesus, my Lord!”

Lent is a time to ponder,
 “What’s the most difficult thing God is asking of me?
And how, in my faith and my love for God,
am I responding to what God’s asking?”

Of course, and as always,
there’s another Father and another beloved Son
for us to remember here.
The story of Abraham and Isaac
prefigures the story of Jesus and his Father.

As Abraham did not withhold his beloved son, Isaac, from God,
neither did God withhold his beloved son, Jesus, from us.
But - no messenger swooped down on the Cross to rescue Christ.
Jesus suffered and offered his life for us - withholding nothing –
that we might have life and have it to the full.

The sacrifice of martyrs strengthens our faith and our love of God.
As Abraham built an altar on which to sacrifice his son,
so we gather at this altar to share in the sacrifice of Jesus
who nourishes us now in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.
May Lent, this Lent 2015 be a time for us to ponder
who is God and where is God and how is God in our lives.
May it be a season to grow in faith and in our love for the Lord
whose love for us knows no bounds.

An icon of the 21 Coptic Martyrs by Tony Rezk


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