Hungering for the Future (Lenten Reflections on Genesis 15)

Text: Genesis 15:1-18

[For an amplified narration of Genesis 15 read my previous post.]

Abraham waited for a child. And then his descendants waited 400 years in slavery for the land. Waiting is part of every believer’s journey. The Psalms overflow with the language (e.g., Psalm 25). “Wait for Yahweh,” the Psalmist writes (Psalm 27:14). The apostle Paul characterized our life between the ages—the present age and the age to come—as waiting (Romans 8:25).

But waiting is precarious. It doesn’t always feel safe. Indeed, it is perilous at times and often uncertain. Waiting is painful. Waiting opens the door to fear. Waiting tests faith.

Abram, the father of faith, was tested by the wait. Promised that his seed would bless all nations (Genesis 12:3) and though prosperous in possessions as well as victorious in battle, he was frustrated that he had no heir. “What good are all these gifts and promises when I have no son?” Abram asked. “You will have a son,” Yahweh assured him, “and they will be as numerous as the stars of the sky.” The stars gave him a way to connect with the word of the Lord. Assured, he trusted God.

Yet, when God promised Abram that his descendents would live in the land where he only sojourned, Abram’s faith was restless. “How can I be sure that this will come true?” Abram asked. More waiting? Faith can only take on so much and then it begins to wonder and perhaps wander. Faith needs something to hold onto, something to grasp. Faith needs something concrete, physical, material.

God, gracious with our weaknesses (we are dust) and accommodative to our needs (we are flesh), gave Abram’s faith something concrete. It was a symbol, but more than a symbol. It was physical, but deeply connected to the reality of God’s own Spirit. It was material, but it was not mere dust.

God “cut a covenant” with Abram. Animals sacrificed and cut into halves. Birds released into the air. A covenant was ratified; a promise was made. And God passed between the halves—not in mere symbol, but as a smoldering pot and a flaming torch. God was present between the halves, just as he was present at the Red Sea and in the wilderness with Israel (cloud and fire). God assured Abram by a self-imprecation. “As surely as I pass between these halves, may what happened to these animals happen to me if I do not keep my promise.” Abram tasted the future in that moment.

The covenant gave Abram a taste of the future but it did not take away his hunger for that future. Abram still waits—sometimes fearfully, sometimes expectedly—but he waits for what is to come. The covenant reassures, removes fear, and emboldens faith. Abrahm believed and his relationship with God was sealed.

During the season of Lent our wait is accentuated. We wait for Easter. As we follow Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, we also anticipate the future for which Jesus waited. We learn to hunger again for the future as we wait for Easter. By faith we lean into the future.

Lent is not about doom and gloom. It is punctuated with the future as we pass through each Sunday, each “mini-Easter” (if you please). On Sunday—resurrection day, the first day of the week—we get a taste of the future. It is a day to relax our Lenten restrictions. (That is why Lent is not about giving up sin! We are supposed to have already done that. Rather it is about giving up some normalcy, some comfort, in order to pursue God in a focused way.) It is a day to experience the future—the coming of Easter, but also the coming new heaven and new earth in the resurrection.

We do not fast on Sunday because on that day we eat the Supper of the Lord. We eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. It is symbol, but more than symbol. It is physical, but deeply connected to the reality symbolized by God’s own Spirit. It is material, but it is not mere dust. The bread we break is a participation in the body of Jesus and the cup which we drink is a participation in his blood (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is covenant in the body and blood of Jesus.

God “cut a covenant” with us at the cross of Jesus and promised us a future in the resurrection. When we eat and drink, we are assured of that future. We eat and drink with the Living Christ and sit with him at the right hand of the Father. And he promises us that we will live and reign with him in the new heavens and new earth. At the Lord’s Table we taste the future but yet hunger for it. We hunger for Easter, not just that single Sunday every year, but for the Easter that will unveil the new heavens and new earth. That Easter will unveil our transformed bodies when God reaps the full resurrection harvest.

And, with Abram, our faith testifies that it is worth the wait.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where do you see fear and faith, uncertainty and waiting, in the text of Genesis 15?
  2. Why does God come to Abram to assure him? Is faith something that should not need such assurances?
  3. For what do we “wait” during Lent? What characterizes our wait? How does symbolize our life in Christ as a whole even when we are not practicing Lent?
  4. Do you experience the Lord’s Supper as assurance? What is the nature of that assurance? How is faith strengthened through eating and drinking?

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