Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me. They put me to the test, though they had seen my works.
Forty years long I detested that generation and said, “This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter into my rest.”
The wilderness is in many ways the archetypal image for Lent. The forty days of Lenten fasting are often compared to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness tempted by Satan, which, in turn, mirror the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. The Israelites’ wilderness experience comes immediately after the defining and triumphant moment of the exodus—God’s deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. The joys of liberation were followed immediately by the challenge of the wilderness, not unlike Jesus’ baptism leading directly into his temptation. The persistent struggle of the Israelites in the wilderness is their lack of trust in God.
Psalm 95 recalls a prominent example, at Massah and Meribah, when the people tested and quarreled with God demanding water when they camped at a place lacking it. The Israelites asked Moses why he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt just to die in the wilderness. They knew that their God had protected and cared for them, yet at the same time they were quick to forget that truth. There is something deeply human in that response that we all can identify with.
We demand signs of God’s presence and care for us and then so quickly forget them. The work of faith is to remember God’s acts of the past and trust that God will provide in the present and the future as well. Psalm 95 offers us the beautiful line, ‘Oh, that today you would hearken to [God’s] voice!’ It reminds me of a hymn text that astounds me every time we sing it: ‘in prophet’s word [God] spoke of old; he speaketh still’ (The Hymnal 1982 372). Faith teaches us to believe this truth, that God still speaks to us in the course of our lives and on our own journey through the wilderness. Oh, that today we would listen for that voice and trust the one who speaks.
Keep watch over your Church, O Lord, with your unfailing love; and, since it is grounded in human weakness and cannot maintain itself without your aid, protect it from all danger, and keep it in the way of salvation; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 47)