First Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
Many of us may start singing when we read the first verse of today’s psalm. It is, after all, the first verse of the well-known song “On Eagle’s Wings.” In fact, all three verses are derived from Psalm 91, although only the first and the third are from the portion selected for today. But nowhere in the psalm are eagles’ wings mentioned. For those references one has to go to either Exodus 19 or Isaiah 40. And yet it’s eagles’ wings that catch my attention, the unsaid phrase that everyone knows.
I recall a day when I was driving along a dirt road in Wyoming and was distracted by a dark mass in the ditch along the side of the road. I pulled the car over to get out to see, and on hearing the car door, the mass pulled itself up and rose to sit on top of the nearest fence post. There I was face to face with full grown golden eagle; he was all of three feet tall. He leaned forward to fly away and almost bellied out in the road before those powerful wings lifted him into the air. it didn’t take him long to fly high and out of sight. I had often seen eagles soaring above, but I had never witnessed the strength of those wings.
There is a Catholic church in Chinle, Arizona, a town right in the heart of the Navaho Reservation. Rather than using a thurible the priest burns the incense in a shallow handmade clay dish and at the censing of the gospel directs the smoke of the burning incense over the book with the wing feather of an eagle. The eagle, the strongest and highest flying of the birds, and the smoke both carry our prayers to heaven (or our offerings in the text from Deuteronomy). As we have been exhorted to prayer and meditation during this fast of Lent, let us remember that our prayers are carried on wings that are strong and powerful – like eagles’ wings.