This Sunday is our first Sunday in the season of Lent. Lent is a time that we journey with Jesus into the wilderness. It is a time of letting go in order that our lives may be conformed more fully by the Spirit to the life and mission of Christ.
Deuteronomy describes the offering of First Fruits to the Lord. The text includes the liturgy that was to be spoken as the worshiper presented the offering. The liturgy remembers the great acts of God in deliverance of the people into the promised land. After the offering and the spoken liturgy the text commands the worshiper to celebrate with a feast which included both the Levites (the priests) and the aliens in the land. We are reminded that the first fruits (the blessings of God) are not ours to hoard but to share.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Psalm 91 speaks of God as a refuge and a fortress. In the latter half of our Psalm reading we encounter the scripture that the devil uses in the temptation of Jesus (our gospel lection). It can be alarming to read the Psalm text in worship, and then to read the Devil’s use of it immediately after! It reminds us that even benign and helpful biblical maxims such as “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” can have a dark side when put in the hands of those with bad intent. Above all though the Psalm celebrates the providential care of God. God is a God who enters out lives and is active in forming us.
Our epistle lection presents us with Paul’s affirmation that salvation is available to all by grace through faith (confession) in Jesus Christ. These are difficult texts to “jump into” because Romans is a complex theological treatise that requires a broad understanding of
context and structure of the letter in General. Suffice it to say Paul is affirming the availability of salvation to all in an attempt to show the world that Jews and Gentiles can co-exist as Christians in a single church and be heirs to the hopes and promises of the Jewish tradition and Jesus the Messiah.
The first Sunday in Lent presents us with the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus is tempted three times by the devil. He is tempted to use his power to turn stones into bread to quench his hunger. He is tempted to worship the devil and thus gain all the kingdoms of the earth. And he is tempted to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple knowing that God will save him. The devil tempts Jesus by quoting scripture to Jesus. Jesus deflects the temptations by quoting scripture back to the devil. The fascinating story is given an ominous ending in Luke’s gospel when he records that “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Luke uses the story of the wilderness wandering to foreshadow the coming suffering of the Christ. This is likely the reason why Luke switches Matthew’s order of the temptations, placing the Devil’s taunt of Jesus to throw himself from the Temple as the last temptation. In reality God will indeed let Jesus receive injury, and by that injury the Devil (the power of sin and death) will be crushed.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your thoughts, hearts, hymns, and prayers for worship consider how the great acts of God in the past have positioned us for a successful wilderness journey. If we have been faithful to continually offer the first fruits (even to the alien amongst us) and to remember the liturgy (i.e. remember the past stories) then we are well aware that God hears the prayers of those who need Him. We are well aware that God is a refuge. Yet we know that our deliverance is not a private affair. We are delivered in order to deliver. This may in fact cause us to suffer as it did the Christ. We therefore resist the temptation of the Devil to use God for our own benefit, and we strike out on a journey to follow the Christ to Jerusalem to lay down our lives for others.