Midweek Lenten Worship – Holden Evening Prayer
with St Anne’s, St Alban’s, and Gilmore Park, hosted by St Anne’s
9 March 2022
Our reading from Deuteronomy, last Sunday’s first reading, is given as Israel stands on the threshold of the Promised Land. Mostly it is an instruction in a liturgical act of gratitude. Our idea of tithing is related and is addressed later in the chapter. Because we know that God provides for us we are able to give God the first fruits, not whatever may be left, if anything at all. It is less a moral lesson than it is an instruction in faith and faithfulness. Faith trusts in God and because it trusts in God it not only anticipates God’s provision but knows it.
Of course, it is also a lesson against holding on to things so tightly, even if out of worry, that we develop cramps not only in our fingers but in our heart as we become fearful. And I know that there were times when my children were young that I urged too much caution around things, simply because money was tight.
However, what strikes me particularly in this reading is the instruction against amnesia. The collective memory of the people shall include this statement, “A wandering Aramean was my father, he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon they became a great nation, mighty and many …,” and it goes on to describe their enslavement.
This is significant because most of us prefer to forget shame and defeat. We may not have a handler but we like to control our story.
When I first came to Canada to study at the Vancouver School of Theology I quickly got tired of the well intentioned question of where I was from because I simply wanted to belong. And so I anglicized my name and worked really hard on my accent, which isn’t to say that I don’t have one.
A few years before that when I had changed schools in Germany’s tripartite school system, I wasn’t to keen on relating that I had come from the middle branch because I did not want people to stigmatize me, as people did and do.
So to say ‘a wandering Aramean was my father,’ is like saying ‘my family came to this country as refugees,’ or ‘I grew up in a family that was dirt-poor,’ or other things that invoke shame in us, things that we may not only want to hide from others but from ourselves. The New Testament equivalent is to say that we Gentiles were once strangers and aliens. Perhaps the church became ashamed of once having been strangers and aliens and thus developed what we call supersessionism, declaring that the church had replaced Israel, and thus to dismiss that Israel is God’s first love, and so to make antisemitism possible.
Our reading ends with the exhortation to celebrate the bounty the Lord has given us, and within this verse is a reference to the foreigners who live among us. As we read on in chapter 26 we see that the reference to foreigners, to the resident aliens returns, and is enlarged by including other groups at the bottom of the social and economic ladder, not only resident aliens, but also orphans and widows.
This means that the sharing of our prosperity with those at the margins is closely tied to our remembering that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean, was a nomad without a home, that our Lord had no place to lay his head, that we were once strangers and aliens, and that what we have today and who we are today is not our doing but the Lord’s.
Lent is a penitential season, a time to remember who we are. Remembering who we are rejects our collective amnesia that turns others into petitioners, into the unfortunate, or into ‘undesirables’ (as someone in one of my previous parishes liked to refer to homeless people who came to our door). Remembering our history, both personal and collective allows us to trust God instead of ourselves, and it allows us to build better and more equal relationships with others, for we no longer have to try to uphold a false image of ourselves that we need to protect from being shattered.
And that too is a gift.
Thanks be to God.