Vigil 2017 Hour Two: Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Abraham & Melchizadek, Preparing the Way for Christ

Brenda Wolf Smith

The Amidah:

Adonai   s’fatai  tiftach,   ufi    yagid   t’hilatecha.
Baruch atah   Adonai,  Eloheinu   veilohei     avoteinu,   Elohei   Avraham,   E-lohei Yitzchak,  Veilohei   Yaakov,   Haeil    HaGadol    HaGibor   v’HaNorah,   Eil Elyon,     gomeil   chasadim   tovim,   konei   hakol,  v’zocheir   chasdei    avot,    umeivi   goeil   livnei v’neihem   l’maan    sh’mo   b’ahavah.

My L-rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, G‑d of Abraham, G‑d of Isaac and G‑d of Jacob, the great, mighty and awesome G‑d, exalted G‑d, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name.

We now begin our hour on the patriarchs. The word prepare means to make something ready. The format of the Easter Vigil speaks to the tracing of history through the books in our Bible to the preparation of the earth for the incarnation of the Christ being. What had to take place on earth for the incarnation to take place? What does it mean to be prepared? Something particular is being prepared through the bloodline of 42 generations and the culture  of the Jewish people to make it possible for the incarnation. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, Jakob, Rachel, & Leah, and later Moses, David, and Solomon all played  a role in the culture from which Jesus was born. They all played a role in the formation of the culture, of the worship traditions, of the laws, and of the temple.

The patriarchs had the ability to directly converse with God who gave them directions on the formation of faith. Abraham prepared the way for the concept of one God, a God that can flow into all human souls, a God that was King of the Universe.  This was new, a new concept for many other cultures around believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses – Ishtar and Marduk, Ea, to name a few from Babylon, and of course many of us are quite familiar with the gods and goddesses from Egypt- Isis, Osirus, Horus, and Set.

Through his communion with Divine, Abraham’s faith was tested through the request to honor God by sacrificing his only and long-awaited son with Sarah, Isaac. This theme also inserts itself into the culture of the generations to come: can you be faithful and trust God? It repeats itself throughout the Old Testament as the people strive towards this and constantly come up short for faith journeys are rarely consistently easy.

We too are constantly tested by this, for the path laid out by our faith is not pain-free. Our highest holy day is a celebration around the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Not a pain-free experience, but one of beauty and power. In fact it is often out of pain that we experience the most growth, the development of empathy and compassion. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. This is too is not pain-free.

Through the generations, this striving and attempt to adhere to Mosaic Law helped build up the people’s strength, intellect, and determination for what was needed for the incarnation. Now these are some of the concepts I anticipated exploring when I thought I would take up the Patriarchs and Matriarchs for the Easter Vigil, and then I ran into the enigmatic passage that we began with, describing Abraham’s meeting with Melchizadek. I really hadn’t noticed this bit before, and as I continued researching, I discovered that it was a subject matter that many a dissertation has been written on.

Now there are divergent views on who Melchizadek was and what the meaning of Abraham’s meeting with him was. The word Malki-Tzedek means “King of Righteousness” and he is the king of Shalem, meaning King of Peace. Some scholars believe that Shalem refers to what will become Jerusalem.  This king brings out bread and wine which foreshadows the Passover dinner as well as the Last Supper.

Melchizadek  was cohen of El ‘Elyon [God Most High].  There are at least 5 different opinions as to who Melchizadek is: 1. A well-repected king of that region; 2. Melchizadek may have been a standing title for all the kings of Salem;3. Melchizadek was the appearance on earth of the pre-incarnate Christ in a temporary bodily form.LSB); 4. Melchizadek is Noah’s son Shem.  According to the ancient Targumim (Aramaic interpretive translations of the Torah), Melchizedek is identified as Shem—son of Noah. Shem was one of the links in the chain who transmitted the G‑dly traditions that originated with Adam. These traditions were carefully handed down from generation to generation, and Shem—who headed an academy—was a key conductor of these teachings; 5. Another view is that Melchizadek was an initiate, meaning someone who had direct perception of the spiritual world of the highest order, working through the inspiration of Shem to communicate to Abraham knowledge of God Most High- a godhead that is inclusive of the entire trinity- inclusive of Christ in his pre-incarnate state.

In Genesis Chapter 14 the text continues: So Melchizadek blessed him with these words: “Blessed be Avram by El ‘Elyon, maker of heaven of earth,  and blessed be El ‘Elyon, who handed your enemies over to you.” Giving a blessing was a huge deal in the Old Testament. It meant you were passing something holy and special. Later, we see this is Jakob tricking his father Isaac into giving him the birthright through his blessing. A spiritual event takes place in these blessings. El Elyon means “God Most High.” Rabbi Menachem Posner remarks that the priesthood passes from Melchizadek to Abraham as a result of his having blessed Abraham before blessing G‑d in the verses above. Melchizadek, who encompasses the primal archetype of the priesthood, passes this to Abraham in the metaphor of his blessing.

Avram, a powerful victorious tribal chief, gave him a tenth of everything.  Avram shows deference and honor to this king, Melchizadek sharing with him 1/10 of all the spoils of battle, yet refuses to take any gifts,  as he has made an oath to show faith in what God has in store- descendants as numerous as the stars.  Back to Genesis –

The king of S’dom said to Avram, “Give me the people, and keep the goods for yourself.” 22 But Avram answered the king of S’dom, “I have raised my hand in an oath to Adonai, El ‘Elyon, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take so much as a thread or a sandal thong of anything that is yours; so that you won’t be able to say, ‘I made Avram rich.’ 24 I will take only what my troops have eaten and the share of the spoil belonging to the men who came with me — ‘Aner, Eshkol and Mamre; let them have their share.”

Abraham is taking the blessing from Melchizadek, taking the transfer of spiritual power, taking the image of an archetypal Righteous Priestly King into the culture and bloodline from which Jesus will be born.

So Melchizadek is only mentioned in Psalm 110 and then again in Hebrews where Christ is described as a priest in the order of Melchizadek. What is that order? It is an order based on divine knowledge vs. bloodline such as we see with the Kohanin (descendants of Aaron), and the Levites (descendants of Levy) David expresses in his psalm his image of the messiah to come:

PSALM 110 

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand,
until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion:
rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,
in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning:
thou hast the dew of thy youth.

The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent,
Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
He shall judge among the heathen,
he shall fill the places with the dead bodies;
he shall wound the heads over many countries.
He shall drink of the brook in the way:
therefore shall he lift up the head.

What does it mean, to be after the order of Melchizadek? There has been a great deal of discussion on this point. To be a priest after the order of Melchizadek, the Prince of Peace is to work out direct divine knowledge vs. bloodline for according to the old practices Jewish priests had to be from the tribe of Levy, and  Kohanim (descendants of Aaron). Jesus was not from the tribe of Levy, he was not a Kohen. David anticipated this in his Psalms by characterizing the messiah as, “A priest after the order of Melchizadek.” A priest with ties that predate the Jewish Aaranic priesthood.

Jesus Christ, the Divine Priest of Humanity, at the last supper, like Melchizadek, shared bread and wine and conferred his blessing through this ritual to his disciples. He passes a power and challenge to them, to bring a new teaching into the world, one of love, peace, and compassion . Through this he sets up an archetype for our worship, an archetype for the mass, which has its roots in Genesis, when Abraham meets Melchizadek.

Abraham and Melchizadek, preparing the way for the path towards the resurrection. The image of one all-encompassing God most high, the blessing, the prototype of our mass, are all set forth in the very beginning with our first patriarch , Abraham.


Monsignor Charles Pope’s reflection on the song Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham:

Biblically, the “bosom of Abraham” referred to the place of rest in Sheol, where the righteous dead awaited the Messiah and Judgment Day. It is mentioned only once (Luke16:22-23), in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the parable, Lazarus is said to rest and abide in the bosom of Abraham, awaiting the Messiah’s full redemption, whereas the rich man is in Gehenna, a place of torment.

More generally, though, the image of resting in the bosom of Abraham is rooted in the image of a sick, frightened, or wounded child resting safely in the arms of his parents (in this case those of his father). Most children remember awakening from a bad dream and running into their parents’ bedroom for refuge, to a place where they could rest in security.

Spiritually, Abraham is our father in faith; he also symbolizes the heavenly Father. The ancient Jews considered the bosom of Abraham as a place of security, both in life and after death. Resting in the arms of Abraham meant resting in a place where the evil one could not reach and where the just rested securely.

Yes, rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham, Oh, rock a my soul. In a world of injustice and great darkness, we need the soothing rhythm of the God’s love. We need to learn to dance and move to its rhythms and not be overcome with the tremors and evils of this world.

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