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Lenten Devotional 2021: Day 16

Thursday, March 4 – Written by Jan Wood Daly

Holding On and Being Held – Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16

The story of Abram and Sarai is a story of hope and promise. When Abram was 99, God made a covenant with him and with his wife Sarai. In the Hebrew language, the number nine means “the months of pregnancy”. Abram and Sarai were 99, or “very pregnant!” The word “pregnant” means to have a child, but it also means “full of meaning.” God’s promise to give them a child was full of meaning and significance.
The covenant that God makes with Abram and Sarai is symbolized by adding an “h,” the Hebrew letter “heh,” to their names. “Heh” is written in the shape of a mouth breathing. It symbolizes the breath of God, and receiving understanding and grace from God. The word “heh” is used as an exclamation. “See! Behold! Surely!” By adding this “h” sound to Sarai and Abram’s names, God is breathing God’s Spirit into them.  Their names come to mean, “Behold! Surely God’s Spirit dwells with them! They are filled with grace and understanding!”
The covenant that God made with Sarah and Abraham was one of hope, of promise, and the fulfillment of that promise. In Gen. 17:7, God says, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
The key to this covenant is understanding hope. Hope is not a contract: “I will hope in God if God will do things for me.”  Hope is a covenant.  Hope focuses on our relationship with God, not on God’s actions.  Hope puts no conditions on God.  Hope says “yes” to a future where the only guarantee is God’s loving presence.
Hope does not deny the present reality, nor does it suppress grief. Hope gives voice to our grief, so that we can be freed from it.  We express our grief not to hold onto it, but to let it go. Hope helps us surrender to God and to the present reality – not to give up or give in, but to give over. Hope gives over to God what we cannot bear on our own. Hope is not about grasping after, but about letting go – becoming empty – so that God’s Spirit, God’s breath, can enter.
God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and God makes a covenant with us. God breathes into us and gives us a new name: “Behold! Surely My Spirit dwells with you! You are filled with grace and understanding!” This covenant gives us reason to hope. That hope isn’t about holding on, but about being held. For holding on is good, but being held is better.
Spirit of God, breathe into us your covenant, your promise, your hope. Help us embrace your vision for our lives by letting go of grief and fear. Help us to say “yes” to the future, where the only guarantee may be your loving presence. When we struggle to hold on, help us to remember that we are held by you, in your Everlasting Arms. Amen.