He shall give his angels charge over you

First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” This passage from Deuteronomy is one of the oldest in the Hebrew scriptures, and its commandment a central one in the Hebrew scriptures. It includes the instructions to the Israelites of how to thank God. That thanks comes with a recitation of the salvation history to that time: life as an alien in Egypt, enslavement, and escape. They say that Lord saw “our affliction, our toil, and our oppression”. They acknowledge that the departure from Egypt was accomplished with “a terrifying display of power”. And then brought them to the land they are now in, a “land flowing with milk and honey.” In response to that gift, they are to present to the temple the first fruit of the ground they have been given.

Reading this while watching scenes of refugees from Ukraine traveling to Poland and other European nations reminds me that there are still many “wandering Arameans”. It is not just Ukrainians: Afghans, Iraqis, Congolese, Uighurs, and Rohingya are among the many who have taken to the roads fleeing war and violence. They are fleeing because of “terrifying displays of power”. The Israelites were fortunate, because their Lord gave them a rich land; but not all are so lucky.

The passage from Deuteronomy is not really about refugees, though it is difficult right now not to think about them. It is about giving thanks, giving back to God from the gifts we have been given. Our offerings are a representation of our thanks.

Today’s psalm is full of promises: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge. . .There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.” It is a lovely promise, but many of us can provide examples of how it has not come true. Many of those who have trusted in the Lord have suffered, whether through war and violence or illness. What does it mean when God gives “his angels charge over you”? Are we to be the angels? I think the core of the psalm is later, because trouble will come, and then God says, “I am with him”. And sometimes, in my experience, that is enough.

As we enter Lent, many of us have given something up, or taken something on, to better attend to God. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds the devil not to put God to the test. Instead, he fasts for 40 days in the wilderness. My mind keeps returning, though, to refugees fleeing war. They have already given up so much. They are trusting: maybe God, maybe just other people. May we do what we can to help them. And may God give his angels charge over them.

2 thoughts on “He shall give his angels charge over you”

  1. Amen. I am thrilled to see that you are doing this. It’s become one of my major survival techniques fir this season of distress and it is such a powerful lens through which to view these times. I get to read and study the Heb. Portions with my Heb. “Coach”. This set is such a magnifier of our events. Is was especially moved by the calm, intention laden ritual of offering the first fruits to God.

    Thank you

    1. Thank you, Kathryn. Writing these lectionary reflections has been an interesting challenge over the past few months. But I’m always surprised when the readings take me somewhere unexpected!

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