It has become a day with little girls in pastel dresses and eggs in baskets and candy from a bunny.
In church circles, it represents a cross and a savior and a stone rolled away by a God who promises something specific that no one in history ever promised before.
The promise is brilliant. However, it can be hard to believe. At least for those of us who say we believe, and then live our lives like… well, like we don’t quite believe after all.
This don’t-quite-believe phenomenon is nothing new. Case in point: Abraham.
Abraham is a big name around Bible parts. His story is a lynchpin in the plotline of God getting close with His people.
Abraham was devoted to God, but that devotion proved conditional, depending on circumstances at hand. One example? Abraham pawned his wife off as his sister to get in good with an ungodly king.
Maybe cracks are inevitable in any character and start to show after a long and exhaustingly faithful life? Except that it happens on page 10. And Abraham did it twice.
Abraham defaulted to a human response that is still trending today. His penchant to act on his own overrode his belief that, with God, he could do better.
Not that “on my own” is such a bad thing. It carries with it great accomplishments like independence, grit, growth. But, it has a dark side. In the cadence of life, there comes a time where most of us are weary enough to admit: I can’t do this on my own. Or, at least, I wish I wouldn’t have to.
God promised people in the Bible that He would not leave them on their own. However, God’s “I am here!” was often met with, “I doubt it.” Some say Abraham was supposed to be different. Some say Abraham was different.
As a result, God struck a covenant with Abraham that set the stage for everything that means anything about Easter. The scene that played out was a weird but practical demonstration of what “I am here!” would mean between Abraham and God.
It was a “beriyth” or an agreement made by passing through pieces of cut up animal flesh, which was common cultural contract signing in those days. It is not as gross as it sounds.
Simply, two people agreed to something, cut animals in half, and the person with less clout walked through the pieces, signifying that if he broke the promise then he, too, would be cut to pieces.
I guess it is as gross as it sounds.
In Abraham’s case, it was an all day and into the night kind of situation. God told Abraham to set up the beriyth animal pieces which meant they were making an I-promise-to-be-your-God-and-you-promise-to-let-me kind of deal.
Cue the music for the walk-through-the-flesh contractual portion of the show, which Abraham was supposed to do. However, that is not how the deal went down. Instead, the divine presence of God appeared as a lightning bolt and passed through the pieces of flesh in Abraham’s place.
It was God saying to Abraham that yes, Abraham, you may promise me, but what trumps all is that I promise you. If someone messes up in this relationship – when someone messes up in this relationship, when you mess up in this relationship, the cut-to-pieces business is on me. When you break this promise to let me lead you as God, I will absorb that cost so you and I can still be, well, a you and I.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Easter. For God so loved Abraham that He was willing to break Himself to pieces over it. A brilliant promise! Yet, oddly, hard to believe, for we see how it changed Abraham’s behavior.
Abraham proceeded to sell his wife like his sister a second time anyway.
If that plot twist has you thinking: this is not like I thought it would be, then take a number. This is not like anybody thought it would be.
Even when Abraham resolutely promised to let God be God, he was ill-equipped to do so. Our human condition doubts that God has our back in the way He promises. When pinched, we proceed with common sense and on our own – wrenching God out of top spot and shoving ourselves into first place in our own lives.
How does God handle that? Personally.
In Abraham’s case, God handled it with a culturally relevant pieces-of-flesh contract, promising that God would stay loyal to Abraham even when Abraham behaved disloyally to God. That disloyal behavior would have been enough for anyone else to ditch Abraham, but not God, who took Abraham…personally.
In our case, what Jesus did on the day we now celebrate as Easter is the fulfillment of what God started that day with Abraham. God is willing to absorb the cost of our shortfalls over and over and over again, even if it means breaking Himself to pieces over it. He does it for a chance at a relationship with us – that we will let Him love us.
Getting personal never is.
Life is confusing. Triumphs are distracting. Failures are embarrassing.
Which is why there are pastel dresses. Baskets with eggs. Candy from bunnies. These things are easier on the conscience than looking at our sell-a-wife-like-a-sister inclinations, and then, vulnerably, letting God get involved. Personally.
It isn’t easy. The God of the Bible knows His positions can be confusing, and His love is a different thing altogether than benchmarks familiar to our earthly measures.
Walking that out was hard for Abraham back then; it’s still hard for us today, even with the epic stone-rolled-away crescendo of Easter. God knows we may not give the glorious cover-your-shortfalls-for-the-sake-of-a-relationship-with-me promise of Easter a chance.
But, this Easter, He wishes we would.