During the Easter season, I am particularly fond of returning to the words of Eucharistic Prayer C – which remind us of God’s great and majestic creation, the place of humankind in the midst of it, and our all-too-frequent human failure to reflect the image of God in which we are made back into God’s world. It is a humbling prayer, during a season in which we celebrate the Resurrection, that calls us to remember God’s incredible love for us that has been manifested through the ages.
If I were to name a “beef” with the language of Eucharistic Prayer C, it would be the way in which we describe God as the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But what about the mothers? Well, there are a few…and their story isn’t so simple. And there lies my second “beef” with Eucharistic Prayer C: the omission of the names of some of the mothers by well-meaning clergy who want to “correct” the “oversight.”
We are told in the Book of Genesis that Abraham actually had children with two women. It was the slave woman, Hagar, who gave birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to his younger son, Isaac. Even here we find the story of our human disobedience: As Sarah advances in age beyond her childbearing years, the impatient Abraham and Sarah don’t wait for the heirs that God has promised. Instead, they turn to the younger Hagar to give Abraham the child that it appears Sarah will never bear. And after Sarah does indeed have a child, and Hagar and Ishmael’s usefulness has ended, Abraham, at Sarah’s urging, sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, surely believing that the pair will never be heard from again. God intervenes there in the desert, sparing their lives and renewing to Hagar the promise that God had already made: A great nation would come from Ishmael. The Islamic faith traces its roots to this first-born son of Abraham – Ishmael.
We also learn in Genesis that Isaac goes on to marry his beloved Rebekah after Sarah’s death, and the two have twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Older son Esau, like Ishmael, begins a new family line in a new place – that is, after his cheating younger brother, Jacob (with help from their mother, Rebekah), steals his birthright and patriarchal blessing. But Jacob will go on to bear children with four women – sisters Leah and Rachel, and their slave women, Bilhah and Zilpah. All of Jacob’s children by all four mothers will continue as the lineage of this man who is renamed, Israel.
While we recognize that Hagar is a mother whose son will go on to create a new family line that is not part of Israel, she is still an important part of our Abrahamic history who cannot be forgotten. We cannot forget the mothers – ALL of them – who were part of God’s promise of the many descendants of Abraham. And we give thanks for ALL of their lives – Hagar, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.
We can never forget the mothers.
The Rev. Dorothy Sanders Wells is Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church/Germantown, Tennessee.
image: windows ina an amsterdam synagogue depicting Sara, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, designed by Pinar & Viola