This column is the second in a series on the readings from the Easter Vigil for CatholicPhilly. The reading is Genesis 22:1-18. You can find all of CatholicPhilly's Lenten material here, including editor Matt Gambino's reflection on the collects for the Sunday's in Lent. This piece appeared at CatholicPhilly on 23 February 2015.
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (Lk. 6:38).
“How many molecules in a tablespoon of water?” I ask my class, cupping a bit of water in my hand. They shift uneasily in their seats, not sure if I’m actually asking them to count up what is too small for them to see, or if there was something they missed in last night’s reading assignment.
“How many grams are there?” I prompt in all seriousness. “How much does a mole weight?” How many, how much. I ask them to think about the measures they know, again and again, in different ways, until we settle on a number. A number so large that it exceeds the grains of sand on earth, or the number of stars in the universe.
I have taught this class for 30 years and each time I ask this question, I am still staggered by the thought of how many water molecules are cupped in my hand. I can calculate the number with precision, but I still don’t quite believe it in my gut.
In this second of the readings for the Easter vigil, in which God asks Abraham to go into the desert and sacrifice his son Isaac, I hear similar questions, with answers that are even more astonishing. How much will Abraham sacrifice for God? His only son, begotten by a miracle, a gift to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. How much does Isaac trust his father, trust God? Enough to be bound as a sacrifice, enough that even then he trusts that God will rescue him.
How many descendants will God bless Abraham and Israel with in response to this profound faith? Your descendants, the angel tells Abraham, will be more numerous than the grains of sand on the seashore, than the stars in the heavens.
How much. How many. We struggle to find a way to measure a love so deep, so all embracing, that we cannot rationally grasp it. A love that will grant us an overflowing measure of grace. A love that will sacrifice a Son for our sake, for the uncountable descendants of Abraham.
We are the promise of Abraham, heirs to a love that could not be measured. On Easter night, those who stand vigil for the Morning Star will be sprinkled with water, a reminder of our baptism into this covenant with God. And each tiny drop that falls on us, made from the same elements as the stars that burn so brightly in the heavens, has vastly more molecules in it than all of Abraham’s descendants who have yet lived.
A potent reminder of the immensity of God’s mercy, poured forth upon his people.