Image: Charlie Thrasher of Paulatuk
In our northern communities, Elders play such an important role in the passing on of faith and tradition. When there is a gathering and an Elder speaks, everything stops, and undivided attention is given to what is being said. It is a beautiful thing to see in a world where, more and more our senior citizens are often marginalized and voiceless.
In our readings today the focus is on one particular Elder of the Jewish people. We recount the covenant between Abram and God, a promise that would not only require a change in name with, Abram becoming Abraham but also a great journey, and an even greater amount of faith.
The promise between God and Abraham is that God would make Abraham the father of many descendants and from them would be made a great nation, with Abraham’s name being remembered among them, and he would be blessing to them all. In return the people would acknowledge and worship the one true God of Abraham forever more.
It took many generations and lots of zigs and zags in the road but eventually God’s promise with Abraham was fulfilled and in today’s Gospel we hear his name being spoken. Unfortunately, it is not with the greatest of reverence. “Abraham is dead”, the people say, “All the prophets are dead”. They say this in response to Jesus who is talking them about a new relationship with God.
By focusing on the mortality of Abraham, they dismiss the possibility that God’s covenant with the people is still alive, that there is still room for it to be active in their lives and evolve has it had evolved for generations. For them the faith had become a museum piece that they must guard and watch over. They failed to see the new gift of the covenant that was now standing before them, the living, breathing presence of God who was promising them again a new life.
We make the same mistake if we don’t allow the faith that has been passed on us to be alive in our hearts. We become nostalgic about what our parents and grandparents have taught us. We treat their wisdom and knowledge as something to be cherished and put on a shelf to be looked at. But if we don’t put it into the practice of our daily life, we will fail to grasp the true gift that has been handed on to us.
Faith is a living thing which must be nourished and brought out into the light. If we truly want to honor our Elders and show them respect, we must not just hear them with our ears but also with our hearts where their words will become part of us. As we do this not only will our lives be better and our path clearer, we will also have something precious to hand on to the next generation, something new and living, not something old and disused.
Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my day.” May the life we live be a true gift to our ancestors. May they continue to bless us as we continue our faith journey.