Even though Lent can be a time for drawing closer to God, sometimes our wanderings in the wilderness leave us feeling abandoned—even when God has promised to stay with us! We can share Abraham’s incredulity: when God promised him a great reward, he replied, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” And yet, as with Abraham, God can take the occasion of our realism or even skepticism to create bonds of covenant faithfulness, making the promise of progeny that prompted this response: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s example isn’t about willing belief against the absence of evidence (“I think I believe, I think I believe, I think I believe”), but rather about affirming loyalty to God when God affirms loyalty to us.
Such affirmations resound through the scriptures. Paul, in whose thought this passage from Genesis occupies a central place (see Romans 4), writes to the Phillipians that
our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
For Paul, God’s faithfulness is manifest through Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the vocation given to Israel through Abraham: that in Israel all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). Through Jesus the Messiah, we all have a citizenship in heaven, even though being part of Israel can mean suffering at the hands of the nations in the present.
God is faithful: with the Lord as our light and salvation, whom shall we fear? Jesus waits for us as the faithful mother, ever eager to gather her chickens under her wing. When we wander into bondage, as we do, God prepares a Moses to lead us out. And we, struck to the heart by God’s faithfulness to us, follow the example of Lamoni’s father, by giving up all our sins to know God. That, I believe, is the spirit of Lent: not a dour time of penitence, but a time when, in the wilderness of our lives, our hearts reach out in loyalty to the God who loves us through it all by giving up anything that might hinder our covenant relationship. Let us then, in our Lenten fast, draw nearer to the God who, even in times of apparent absence, has pledged never to abandon us.
Second Sunday in Lent
The Collect: Our most faithful God, who sends your Spirit into our hearts to root the wicked spirits out of our breasts, and who gave your Son, Jesus Christ, to bring your everlasting covenant with us to pass: bless us in our time of penitence, as we reach in faithfulness to you by striving to give up all our sins to know you, with the knowledge of your love, from which nothing in heaven or earth may separate us; and grant that we may succor one another in our fasts, until our faithful love makes us one people as you are one God. Amen.
For the music, here is a chant setting of the opening verses of Psalm 27: