|Collect of Holy Apostles|
In you and your descendants
all the nations of the earth shall find blessing. Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you."
The Book of Genesis tells of beginnings; in today's story we hear the origin story of the shrine at Bethel. There God appeared to Jacob, as he traveled to Haran to stay with his kinsman, Laban. Although he has the place to himself that night, with only a stone for a pillar, centuries later it became the holiest site of the Hebrew people. Joshua brought the Ark of the Covenant to Bethel and there it resided for several hundred years, until King David moved it to Jerusalem.
We should notice that Jacob dreams of God's presence there and hears God's promise to him, but he says nothing until he wakes up. He might be paralyzed with holy fear and unable to speak. God's promise of protection and many descendants is completely gratuitous; Jacob neither asks for the promise nor deserves it. Nor does God demand anything of Jacob. Realizing the frailty of our good intentions, who can promise anything to God?
God has his own reasons for consecrating this place and for selecting Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for his favor. Jacob is not the deep thinker who might wonder about divine intentions.
So far as Jacob's worthiness, he is nothing special. He consecrates the place by anointing his stone pillow, and thus establishes Bethel as a holy shrine for Hebrews. He will be remembered for that. But he is no saint; he's just one of the ancestors and we tell his story because we dare not forget our history.
That history includes the promise, "Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you."
The importance of this story appears in The Book of Daniel, written more than a thousand years later. The fictional Azariah, with his fellows Shadrack, Meshak and Abednego, sing of God's fidelity from the fiery furnace:
Do not take away your mercy from us,for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,To whom you promised to multiply their offspringlike the stars of heaven,or the sand on the shore of the sea.Daniel was written as the Jews suffered persecution in their own homeland. Despite all that had happened in that millennium since Jacob's dream at Bethel, despite the rise and fall of many cities, the appearance and disappearance of many religions and peoples, the Jews kept faith with the Lord who kept faith with them.
Americans tend to ignore the past, thinking that it's all a haze of dull information. I read a spiritual text recently that invited me to consider the timelessness of life. In deep meditation one comes to the realization that "time is an illusion;" it is attached to the illusion of things around us.
I understand that. I have had that experience in meditation, but I say, "No thank you." We Christians celebrate the Lord's appearance in history. The material world must collapse into disappointed, frustrated emptiness without the Word Incarnate who has lived among us. Although the cycles of our liturgical seasons suggest the timelessness of eternity, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus and the Holy Apostles anchor our faith in this world, where we await salvation.