Today’s first scripture from the Old Testament Book of Genesis presents the covenant that the Lord God creates with Abraham, the founding father of all Israelites.
A covenant signifies a relationship, much like the vows of a husband and wife in the Sacrament of Marriage signifies the relationship of the spouses.
With his covenant with Abraham God sets in motion a plan that will culminate in the revelation of Christ. God chooses Abraham, and in his decision for Abraham, he gives the great patriarch a mission for his life. But the mission of Abraham will extend beyond his own life and into the lives of his many descendants. Through Abraham’s descendants, God in Christ will be born into this world and God will reveal himself in the most extraordinary of ways- God will make himself a descendent of Abraham!
The great “mystery” of our faith, that which makes us Christians and gives the Church her identity and mission, is not ethnic identity or establishing and maintaining institutions, or causes and programs. The great mystery of our faith is the revelation of God in Christ- God accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life. God in Christ is a living, divine person, who, offers us a relationship, as he did with Abraham so long ago. It is only from the vantage point of this relationship that we can appreciate and understand what the mission of the Church is all about. When this point of reference is lost, the Church fragments, falters and fades away.
Christ testifies to his divine identity in his Gospel.
He makes the startling claim that “before Abraham was, I AM”. In ascribing to him the term “I AM” he is evoking the name of God revealed to Moses during the prophet’s encounter with the Lord in the mysterious revelation of the burning bush. Remember, that in that encounter, Moses begged God to share his name, and God responded that he is “I AM”.
Today’s Gospel is preparing us for the mysteries revealed during Holy Week. How so? By clarifying the reason that the Lord Jesus would be arrested, tortured and killed. The motivations to do such terrible things to him was provoked because of what he claimed about himself- Christ claimed that he is God, and not only did he make this claim, but through his actions gave credence that his claim was true.
As such, as we come to appreciate and understand what we will see and hear during Holy Week, the Church asks us to remember that what is happening is about God, what God is doing, and what humanity does to him.
Christ is not merely a great man of historical importance or a renowned prophet or a spiritual guru “par excellence”. Christ is God, God who has, as I said previously, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.
(Today is also the day that the Church recalls the mighty deeds of Saint Patrick, the great evangelist of Ireland. Though for many, Saint Patrick has been reduced to a vague cultural symbol and civic celebrations in his honor have little to do specifically with who Saint Patrick is and what he accomplished. However, the real Saint Patrick was a man who gave his life in service to Jesus Christ, and was willing to suffer and make whatever sacrifices were necessary so that he could share his own relationship with Jesus Christ with others. His efforts were what Christ used to establish the Church in Ireland, and from that Church, create a civilization. What St. Patrick accomplished is testimony to what the Church means by evangelization and the Church celebrates St. Patrick, and holds him up as a model for us, not simply because of his associations with Ireland, but because he a heroic example of what it means to be a Christian. The mission of evangelization, a mission for which St. Patrick dedicated his whole life, is not over or accomplished. Each generation is called by Christ to do what St. Patrick did in our own time and circumstances. On this day when the Church remembers St. Patrick, let us remind ourselves that it is not enough for us Christians to simply remember the saints, but it is our mission to become like the saints we remember.)