Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound, that saved nice folks like me! — American Hymn, (edited)
While Abram was in a trance a fire pot and a flaming torch moved between the macabre scene he had created. Sacrificial animals were laying on the ground, each hew in two, the two halves lying apart leaving a small path between them. The pot of fire and the torch walked that path as Abram watched in a trance. The whole scene was dressed “in a terrible darkness,” that had fallen.
It was in this manner that the covenant with Abram/ Abraham and the LORD was sealed. In old Testament lore, the scene is never repeated. It seems to, however, have been method of sealing covenants: A critter was split in two and the parties walked between the halves thereby proclaiming: If I break this covenant let me be cut in two as this critter.
That is a bit rash, don’t you think? I mean: Who in his right mind would swear so radical an oath or make so firm a covenant? Who in her right mind would set so high a price for the needed rethinking of the contract that will certainly come in the future? Is it any wonder that this way of making a covenant is usually described by saying that: “The weaker party in the covenant walked between the pieces,” indicating that certainly this was not done unless it was imposed on one party by force.
In our story, whatever the interpretation of the ceremony, only the presence of the Almighty walks the bloody path. Abraham is in a trance and observes. He does not walk and good for him too because his story suggests that his confidence in the covenant is not as solid and unwavering as is needed to satisfy the severity of the matter, though he seems to learn. Witness: The binding of Issac.
What does any of this have to do with Luke 13? By the time we read the section about the Pharisee’s warning that Herod is seeking to catch Jesus and the beautiful words about Jesus longing gather Jerusalem under his wings two other episodes have just occurred. In one a woman, a daughter of Abraham as Jesus calls her, has been healed on the Sabbath.
Not only that, but the question is asked “Will only a few be saved?” (Lk 13:23) Counsel to enter by the narrow door will follow. And then this line to those, though they have heard Jesus speak an have broken bread with him but will be excluded from the Kingdom, is spoken: “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 13:28-29)
In other words: The covenant with Abraham will be kept. There will be a multitude as numerous as the stars that will constitute the Kingdom of God. It was the LORD’s promise in Genesis 15 and it will be kept.
From God’s end that is.
Over in Jerusalem it is another story. “See, you house is left to you.” (Lk 13:35) If I understand the Greek word: ἀφίημι correctly, it is “left” with negative connotations. Jesus makes those negative connotations fairly clear by noting that Jerusalem is the place that prophets, the very messengers of the God of Abraham, go to be martyred. Jerusalem is left to its own devices in spite of all the holy expectations once placed on it, in spite of all the pious hopes that the Temple therein raised. The “left” in question here makes clear that the divorce was driven from Jerusalem’s side. The presence of the LORD that once walked between the pieces of the sacrificed animals continues to long for Jerusalem’s redemption. (Lk 13:34)
In the story of Luke, the lament for Jerusalem will come up again:
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it. (Lk 19)
The stones on the ground, it would seem, know who is passing by but the cold hearts of the Pharisees and the cold heart of Jerusalem does not. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Lk 19:42)
Will Jerusalem receive the LORD or the Son in gladness? Will Jerusalem receive the pot of fire and the torch? How will Jerusalem receive them? Does Jerusalem actually long to say: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD?”
Maybe this is the question ought to ask: Do you actually want to sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD?” I know, you do every Sunday in the Sanctus at Eucharist. But is that the song of your heart? Is the LORD, are those who are before you in His name, blessed in your heart and soul? Is the LORD the longing of your heart?
Paul might ask: “Where is your citizenship?” (Phil 3:20) Where, indeed, are your loyalties? The Pot of Fire and the Torch walked between the pieces. All of the LORD was pledged to Abram in the covenant and all was indeed given. The cross of Jesus Christ that called people of every tribe, every nation, every language (Rev 7:9) to the Kingdom Of God to fulfill that covenant stands as witness. The Sanctus is the national anthem of that place.
I return to that path between the bits of creatures. The LORD led the way on the gory path. Is the promise good, right, and beautiful enough for you to walk it too?