The Sacrament of Peace

This post is dedicated to Quaker House, which courageously says “YES to the troops, NO to the wars.”*

Moloch the vast stone of war! — Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Abraham takes a sharp knife, some rope, and his son Isaac, the hope of God’s promise for the future, up the mountain. Isaac carries wood for a fire, asking where the sacrificial victim might be. The answer he gets is no answer: “trust my God.” At the sacred place, Abraham makes an altar of stone, binds Isaac, and prepares the kindling. He will offer his son to him who will be known as the Lord God of Armies. That Lord, Moloch, demands it.

image: The binding of IsaacAbraham is about to slit Isaac’s throat when he hears the call of an angel of God: “Do not sacrifice your son!” His raised arm is stayed in grateful surprise. God provides a ram, a substitute, for the slaughter, and Isaac is spared. The promise, the future, is saved.

But the Lord God of Armies requires human life, and so the sacrifice of other sons continues. In response, God offers the ultimate substitute. “I give you my own flesh and blood as the lamb to be slain,” he says. “Slaughter my son, the seed of the promise; take the life of my being. Spare your children. Let this my sacrifice be once and for all.” The world accepts his offer; it pierces his flesh and pours his blood upon the mount, not understanding that they were to become its life and nourishment. And when the body has been sealed in the earth, the world turns and, in obedience to its Lord, begins again to bind its children for sacrifice. The Lord God of Armies laughs as God weeps.

The children, carrying the burden that will burn their bodies, follow their parents, as did Isaac, in trust. Bound by their parents’ beliefs, unable to resist, they will do, finally, what they are told: the Lord requires it. The slaughter, it seems, will never end. Even divine intervention seems powerless to stop it.

But the light of hope does shine, if dimly. The promise that was killed and buried is risen in human hearts. Those hearts cherish sons and daughters above gods, plead for them, protect them as best they can, even offer themselves as lambs in their place. And, however hopeless it seems, they – we – never lose hope, never stop working to end war, to bring down Moloch from his throne and to raise up this world into the Kingdom of Heaven.

For we, too, are sons and daughters, the only-begotten seed of the promise, the Lamb of God among Moloch’s wolves. The blood of Christ flowing in our veins, we are the angels who cry out to stay the hand of blood sacrifice. We cannot be or do otherwise: love leads and moves us, our light and life. The first-fruits of the divine sacrifice, the body of Christ, the sacrament of peace, the spirit of a new world, we stand before Moloch a sign of contradiction, the sign of the cross. We live and die in faith, hope, and love.

It may seem that we are fools, that the raising of Christ in us is delusion, the hope of peace an empty dream. But we know firsthand that human life and death are given meaning and power, redeemed from the merely animal, in their consecration to love. And we know the power of love to create peace within and among us. Whatever the world is led to do, we are faithful to that power. It is our light, Christ in us the hope of glory, which we dare not, cannot, cover. It is, God help us, who we are.

image: Abraham embraces Isaac after the binding

  • This post is not intended to represent the views of Quaker House; the ideas expressed here are solely the author’s.

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