(RCL C) Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
Grace to you and peace—and certainly a word again of welcome. Even to say “congratulations.” You all deserve an Olympic gold medal in the 3,000 meter event. Which is to say, finding a place to park within 3,000 meters of St. Andrew's.
We continue in so many ways in the grip of this hard season of winter storms and their aftermath, and all these mountains of snow and ice. Understand we may get a bit more this week. Even with the glimpse of sunshine the last couple of days. A time when even the simple routines of everyday life seem to be almost overwhelming in their difficulty. Getting out and coming to church on a Sunday morning requires I know an extra effort and it is I think itself an act of worship and an offering. So, as my grandmother used to say: Stars in your Crown!
And we thank of course especially in that our Choristers, as they sing so beautifully for us this morning, and moms and dads and brothers and sisters and all who support them in this new ministry—and of course Matt, and Beth, and Pete, and Joe, and Liz, and all who are leading the way. On this First Sunday in Lent, as we turn the page in the calendar of the Church Year, grace to you and peace.
I mentioned I think in all our Ash Wednesday services that this word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon, “Lencten,” which means pretty much what it sounds like, “lengthen.” The name of the season of the year when the daylight hours lengthen and the long nights of winter begin to recede.
Lent means “spring,” and even if it doesn’t feel entirely like spring for us yet, it is happening—slowly, deep down. The hard mantle of winter to give way inevitably, and rebirth and renewal to follow. I saw this on Friday afternoon as a great wall of snow let loose from a pitched roof in the bright sunshine and began to slide in an avalanche to the ground. Winter loosening its grip. A pattern as a kind of metaphor, a symbolic progression to match the great theological theme for Lent and Easter.
If Advent and Christmas and Epiphany are for us each year the Season of Incarnation, now we come to the Season of Atonement. Which is to say, the Work of Christ. From the Manger to the Cross. From the winter of sin and death to the everlasting spring of God’s goodness. The restoration of God’s love in Creation. Forgiveness, healing, renewal. And life everlasting. At the Cross and in his death there is for us mercy, kindness, grace. His Body broken and his Life poured out for us, to be gathered together again, the Bread of our Life and the Cup of our Salvation. “A full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”
This week I spent some time reading and praying my way through the propers for these Sundays in Lent in our new lectionary, which turn out actually to follow the same pattern in the lectionary we were previously using in the Book of Common Prayer, from today and on until we get to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. And I was especially drawn to the lessons appointed from the Old Testament—from Deuteronomy this morning, and then from Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, and Isaiah. In each of these lessons there is what I would call a moment of Covenant Renewal. The restoring of the relationship between God and his people. A perfect theme for Lent of course.
Even as this morning in Deuteronomy, as Moses presents in his great Farewell Discourse the outline of a kind of formal ceremony and liturgy, so that this renewal can be something not as a one-time event, but a perpetual theme and reality. Again and again, generation after generation. You bring an offering. You recall the story of first love. “A wandering Aramean was my father.”
Old Abraham, the great ancestor.
You remember how that was lost, through brokenness and sin. And then you celebrate what is now still a fresh and new and living reality--the new reality and the future promise: “’The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm . . . and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . . ‘ Then you . . . shall celebrate all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”
It is a story of rescue. “I once was lost, but now am found.” A story of promise. And Ground Zero for us up ahead at the great culmination of this Lent, Good Friday and the Cross. By his death, death itself is crucified. As we are at the cross joined with him in his death, so in the miracle of Easter we are raised with him. And so in our reading this morning: “We cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice.”
And so, simply again as we set out into this season of Lent, as we come to the Table, as we stand before his Cross and look into his face—to see him more clearly, and so to know ourselves more honestly, grace and peace. Remember the story, Moses says. How with his strong right hand and his mighty arm, he has won for himself the victory. We do the work, sometimes hard work, we need to be doing to deal with the winter of our lives.
Shoveling the sidewalks, breaking up the ice, clearing away the mounds of snow. Both in reality, and as those are metaphors. We all of us have some work to do, no question about it. But Lent and spring on the way for us as the gift of his love.