Deuteronomy 26:1-11 is the Old Testament lesson for the first Sunday of Lent this year.
I have no idea why.
The Gospel lesson is the story of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness from Luke chapter 4. We have a smidgen of Romans for the New Testament lesson and the Psalm is the 91st, which relates to the Gospel.
I even cross-checked the Roman Catholic lectionary and it has the same Old Testament reading. I don’t understand why this was passage chosen to go with Christ’s temptation, but there is something I do see in this passage.
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 is the instructions for the Feast of First Fruits.
“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.”
Deuteronomy 26:1-2 (ESV)
The rest of the paragraph gives detailed instructions on how to do this along with a pretty extensive recitation to be offered. It is a liturgy by definition. It is the prescribed “work of the people” for this particular service.
Reading Exodus through Deuteronomy, we find other instances of this as well. The Passover is largely scripted, as are other services as well. The Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc.
Thankfully, though, we are “New Testament Christians” and we’re free from all that stiff, stuffy liturgy. I mean, just look at Jesus. He threw all that stuff out. His disciples asked how to pray and Jesus said, “Just pray whatever is on your heart. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you have feeling behind it. God likes lots of emotion.”
Not so fast.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen
Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)
Those who take Jesus at his word have been praying this ever since. The Didicahe, an early Christian teaching document, quotes this prayer in full and instructs believers to pray it three times a day.
We come to Scripture not only to learn about God, but also to learn about ourselves. It is important to know what we think about God, and it is equally important to know what God thinks about us.
“Less important than how we imagine God to be is how God imagines us to be,
and God imagines us to be liturgical.”
Consider the New Testament Church:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 2:42 (ESV emphasis added)
There is a definite article in front of each of the components. Not just any apostles’ teaching, not just any fellowship, not just any breaking of bread, and not just any prayers. (I even checked the Greek. I’m not very proficient, but I recognize a definite article.)
God knows we are liturgical. We all develop patterns, either deliberately or otherwise. Even the most free-spirited, emotive, Pentecostal has a way they normally do things.
Let us be thoughtful, let us be deliberate, and let us be traditional, because to be all of these things is to be Biblical.