There is a liturgy in the book of Deuteronomy 26:1-11 which the Israelites recited during the Festival of Weeks – or Shavuot – when they offered the first fruits of the harvest. It was a recitation of their history, from their ancestors, through the redemption from Egyptian bondage, to the settlement of the Promised Land.
This portion of Deuteronomy is also the First Reading of the First Sunday in Lent. During this season of Lent, many will give up something, do some service – like volunteering, – or fast, all as sacrifice or emptying of oneself before the Creator. Whatever we do, or do not do, reflection is central.
We live in a society where we are driven; we cannot afford to stop. We must move fast to make bread and pay bills. Our society measures success by what we have accumulated and we must accumulate more and more. In this rat race we forget who we are.
The liturgy in Deuteronomy is a call to halt for reflection – the major theme of Lent. We came to this earth with nothing and we will leave it with nothing – and that is one of the messages of the ashes on Ash Wednesday. Often we forget this truth and immerse ourselves in this driven busy-ness.
The liturgy directs us to ” set it down (the basket of first fruits or the results of our busy-ness) before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house” (Dt. 26:10b-11).
It is a reminder of our common origin and shared experiences. The Israelites were reminded that they were wandering Arameans, some time populous and prosperous, and some time enslaved. Above all, they were rescued by a powerful God who still cares for them all without distinction.
That is who we are essentially: human beings connected to one another and with the rest of Creation. That is who we are, before we build, create, manufacture, process or possess. That is what we reflect upon during the Lent season.