By Laura Ann Phillips
The family crammed themselves into the specialist’s office.
It was his annual appointment. One more year into a disease listed as “terminal”, brutal in its progression, robbing the family’s patriarch of more and more of his functions.
The questions, the checks, the analysis – eventually, the accusations: “He can be so difficult!” declares his wife. “He’s just always so irritable!”
Typical of the disease, she hears one more time. That word again: Alzheimer’s. But that, surely, is somebody else’s word. Her husband couldn’t really be dying. Why, there he was, right there. Just getting older.
Denial helps us deal with the suffering that’s right in front of us. It’s a convenient buffer that allows the brain to cope with a giant loss, bit by bit.
For Abraham, in the First Reading of this Second Sunday of Lent, faith does that. Still, the account (Gen 22) echoes the desolation that’s felt even before a dreaded loss actually happens.
God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son. Now, in Abraham’s home country of Ur, child sacrifice was as normal as lunch. But, God had called him away from that to something new.
Yet, here was God, asking this very thing.
Abraham had already lost a child; at his wife Sarah’s insistence, he had sent his firstborn away. Although Ishmael had not been the child of the Covenant, he was his child.
Had Abraham’s relationship with God been different, his attitude might have been, too. Resentment may have soured the sacrificial preparations: “I’ve just lost one; I have to give up this one, too?”
How often is this our question, when we realise God is asking us to give up what we treasure: a career, a relationship, loved ones to illness – that one thing that seems to be all we have left.
Yet, there was Abraham, plodding up the mountain, calmly answering Isaac’s innocent questions that must have knotted his insides. Trusting in the goodness of his intimate Friend, believing that He would still somehow keep His promise, even if the “how” couldn’t be seen.
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mk 9:2-10), Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John. They witness Him conversing freely with Moses and Elijah, and a heavenly Voice instructing that they, and we, listen to Him.
Then, Jesus instructs them to “tell no-one what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead”.
The apostles didn’t understand what Jesus meant, although His words were plain enough. How much of their confusion might have been denial, rather than a lack of mental sharpness.
Notably, each time Jesus speaks of His death in the Scriptures, He connects it to the Resurrection reality. Death, the ultimate loss, is part of our life package, but it does not have the last word.
So, we can suffer loss, we can grieve. But, we do so with hope, because God’s faithfulness is real and restorative. We have only to trust in this God who turns all things to good when we do.