Year C: Introduction to the Old Testament in Lent

A number of themes recur in several of the Old Testament passages set for Lent in Year C. There is the theme of hope, of course, appropriate for Lent. We find it especially in the two Isaiah passages both from second Isaiah. Isaiah 55 (Lent 3) invites the hearer/reader to participate in the gifts of wine and milk at no price. Their thirst will be quenched by this exquisite offering by God. The sense of something surprising about to happen is also the focus of Isaiah 43:16-21 (Lent 5). The Lord is about to do a ‘new thing’. The prophet directs the reader’s/hearer’s thoughts to the future and the shape God will give to that.

But the shape of the future is only revealed through memories of things past. This is clear in Isaiah 43 where the ‘new thing’ is seen to be fashioned by the memory of the first exodus. The promise of the prophet is a return to Jerusalem from captivity on Babylon. There will be a new exodus, led not by a new Moses but by the Lord. Combined with the theme of the new exodus based on past memory in Isaiah 43 is the concept of forgiveness (vv. 22-28) although this is not included in the readings set for Lent 5. Memory is also the theme of Deuteronomy 26:1-11 for Lent 1. The setting of the passage is near the end of the second great speech of Moses to the Israelites as they are gathered on the eastern side of the Jordan River ready to enter the promised land. Moses call the people to imagine themselves in the land and after a year or so bringing the first fruits of the land in thanksgiving to the Lord. They are called to remember the experience of their ancestor, the wandering Aramean, who went down into Egypt, bore the persecution of the Egyptians, but was delivered by the Lord. They are to remember how different things were to what they will be in the promised land.

The promised gift of the land is also the theme of Genesis 15:7-21. As God makes a covenant promise to Abraham God reassures him that he will become both the ancestor of a great nation but also the possessor of the land upon which he dwells. Memories of Egypt and the exodus (vv. 13-14) are the basis for this hope which at the end of the chapter and the Book of Genesis remains a hope for the future. Finally, the reading from Joshua 5:9-12 also picks up on the theme of the gift of promised land (Lent 4). The reference to the celebration of the Passover together with the rite of circumcision describes the people’s response to that gift. it picks up on the theme of hope that has been with us alongside that of repentance in this Lenten period. The sense of response to God’s gracious liberation and gift of the land in Joshua 5 is also present in Isaiah 55.

Thus in this Lenten journey we are taken by the Old Testament readings through the themes of hope, memory and of God’s promised life. These point us to the events of Holy Week and Easter.

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