1 Lent, March 10
In the liturgy our minds pass over to events in the distant past, unknown to our parents and grandparents, or known to them as they are to us, through mystery and imagination. We time travel by reciting old stories, offering prayers, and moving our bodies into sacred spaces. We go somewhere new, we are in another country, and yet strangely we are home. We are home because we are, in these heightened moments, and with all our love and attention, where God is. We rest in God, think of him, and recall his deeds.
In the ancient practice of giving the first fruits of the ground as an offering to God, the person making the offering returned to an old story. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:5-9).
It is a powerful and potentially dangerous memory. Egyptians could be seen as permanent oppressors, and the various non-Jewish peoples sharing the land of milk and honey could be seen as those who must concede and hand over their land and property. It is no secret that religion can be troublesome and dangerous.
This memory, however, may work in another way, raising sympathies for wandering migrants, those who have been treated harshly and oppressed, offering hope that liberation will come and that one may, in time, have a plot of land to live on and food to eat. Across the span of centuries, the liturgy and its sacred stories tell of God hearing the cries of the oppressed. Reciting this story rightly is to be convicted by it, called by it, and judged by it. Life is God’s call to be free. “He that the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36).
Sacred memory pulls this story into the present and uses it as a mission for the future. God hears, liberates, and gives us a home. Notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, faith and hope press on to this high calling of freedom.
This vision must be sustained by memory, imagination, and recitation because it competes against another powerful voice. There is an enemy sown in the human heart, promising bread and comfort, the kingdoms of this world, the spectacle of greatness, power, and impunity from harm. The devil deals in the language of comfort, power, prestige, and fame. In some measure, to be sure, these are all human needs. They are met, however, and all too often, at the cost of one’s soul.
What does it mean to live, to truly live? Life is the gift of God. God is the food of our being, a kingdom of peace, a faithfulness we need not test, for God is true and trustworthy in every moment. God in Christ is our freedom, and this is a freedom in which we boldly stand.
Look It Up
From today’s collect: “Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.”
Think About It
God is mighty to save; to save is to set free.