Faith begins with Abraham, as St. Paul describes it in our second reading from the Letter to the Romans: a sort of extended commentary on the legendary patriarch of the People of Israel. Abraham appears in our first reading from Genesis as well, where God changes his name from Abram, which means “exalted ancestor,” to Abraham,” meaning “ancestor of a multitude.” What’s interesting about the name change is that it turns from a name that looks back to the past, to one that looks to the future. Abraham is no longer just the exalted ancestor who lived in the past, but now is the one who stands as the progenitor of a mighty family that stretches forward into the future.
St. Paul is concerned with the basis of that future promise, that Abraham would be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4). For Paul, faith is the key. When God made a covenant with Abraham and his family, St. Paul argues, the basis of the promise was Abraham’s faith. That faith was seen, according to Paul, in Abraham’s belief that God could raise up children after him, in spite of Abraham’s age and infirmity. The Apostle describes Abraham as “already as good as dead” (Rom. 4:19), and his wife Sarah as incapable of conceiving. Yet, in spite of all that, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” (Rom. 4:22).
Our hope as Christians, St. Paul says, rests on the same faith as Abraham’s (Rom. 4:16). Not on faith that God can raise up a family for Abraham, but on faith in Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead (Rom. 4:24). In order to fulfill his promise to Abraham, to give him and Sarah a son, God had to give “life to the dead” and call into existence “the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). In raising Jesus Christ to life again, bringing renewed existence out of the abyss of death, God has uncovered the foundation of all faith, including our own.
God’s promise of life is addressed to all who share the faith of Abraham. Faith is the key. Faith: belief in God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Faith: trust in the One who will raise us to new life on the last day; the One who faces the future with us. Faith: obedient response to the God who calls us to new, transformed life, here and now.
Lent is a time for deepening faith, and no more so than in the time of pandemic, when faith has been stretched to the breaking point. I think this is important to bear in mind, even as we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, we haven’t yet come out of the tunnel into the full light of day. If we consider the time in which Abraham lived, faith emerged in the midst of an extraordinary struggle to believe, to trust, and to obey. Faith is the way that Abraham learned who God was, and who he was in relation to God. As it says in our reading, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” (Rom. 4:22).
Each year, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to engage in acts of repentance and forgiveness, of prayer and self-denial, of reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. In other words, we’re invited to deepen our repentance and renew our faith (BCP, 264-265). I heard a colleague bishop say last week that her advice this Lent, in a year in which we had given up so much, was simply to warm ourselves by drawing a little bit closer to the fire of God’s love. I think this is pretty good advice, as long as we keep in mind that love always belongs together with faith and hope in the God who is mighty to save.
In any case, Lent remains a time for us to deepen our faith, to learn again with Abraham who God is, and who we are in relation to God. Warming ourselves by the fire of God’s love, whatever form it takes, is at the same time an act of faith. Faith itself is full of hope, facing the future in expectation of what God will do in the days to come. The God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead can bring new life out of the pandemic, out of the chaos of our lives, whatever that chaos might be. He can bring us with Christ into new relationship with him. God invites us to share the faith of Abraham, to believe God’s promise, without distrust and without wavering at all.