These 5 chapters move me to confession – I don’t think I’ve ever, either on the first day of Lent or at other times as the Ordinary shall appoint, used the ‘Commination, of denouncing of God’s anger and judgement against sinners’ from the Book of Common Prayer. Sorry. If you’re ever locked in a Church of England church and have run out of old parish magazines to read, you’ll find this between the ‘Churching of Women’ (haven’t used that either, though a former parishioner did suggest reviving it as part of our outreach to the young families of the parish) and the start of the Psalms (which I have used, a lot!).
Check where the quotation stops
I was reminded of the commination when I read in Deuteronomy 27 the source of its ‘cursed be…’ part (of which my favourite is still ‘cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s land-mark’). But as I read on, I found the next bit – six tribes were gathered on Mount Ebal to declare the curses of God’s judgement, but the other six (not mentioned in the commination) were opposite them on Mount Gerizim to declare God’s blessing on faithful life. I know it’s set for the beginning of Lent, but I can’t help thinking that we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot when we’re trying to show people that faith in God is about a fuller and better life, not just avoiding God’s wrath. Would people be any less willing to take God’s warnings seriously if they also knew that living well would be rewarded? I don’t think so.
I don’t know whether George Michael had read the book of Deuteronomy when he wore his ‘Choose Life’ t-shirt in the 80s. It was apparently a statement against drug abuse and suicide – all to the good. But there’s more when we read it in the setting of Deuteronomy 30. We’re challenged to ‘choose life’ by following in the way of God. At the heart of faithful living is the confidence that God’s way will prove to be the best way – not just in eternity but now.
Gratitude and generosity
Part of that choosing life is to live with gratitude to God for all that he has given us (26:1-15, often read at Harvest services)and to share what he has given us willingly and generously with those who cannot provide for themselves. 28:47-48 comes back to this idea; if Israel does not accept with gratitude and open heart the plenty God provides, but instead hoards God’s very practical blessings like a miser, then she will find out what real poverty is.
Choosing life isn’t just – or even mainly – about avoiding incurring God’s wrath. It’s mainly about accepting his blessings with gratitude, and passing them on to others. It may be tempting to hold tight to the blessings we recognise from God, fearful that they may be the last we ever receive. But choosing life means giving away what we have received from God, so that our hands are empty enough to receive his next blessing.
Perhaps next Lent I’ll use a new version of the commination, an ‘annunciation of God’s mercy and blessing to forgiven sinners with open hearts and hands’. It’ll have responses and prayers about the blessings of simple gratitude and generosity. Any suggestions for the ‘Blessed are they who…’ bits?
Hang on – I think we may have some already in Matthew 5:1-12. Perhaps I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.