God Is Our Refuge and Fortress, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Too many of us feel that there is no light in Lent, or that ashes on the forehead mean a light switch has been turned off. But in today’s passage there is a call to return, with light for the path back. The first two verses of the ninety-first psalm give a bit of warning. This is not to frighten us, but to let us know that no one is immune from life’s difficulties and dangers. Verse 1 tells us there will be times when those “who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty” will find themselves returning to God, reassuring themselves with a prayer of affirmation. They “will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’ “ (v 2).
This, too, is Lent-the reassurance that the Lord is our refuge and our fortress. It is good to be reminded of this before the time of crisis is upon us. We don’t know how many times divine intervention protects us, but we do know that we, like Jesus and everyone else, are susceptible to disease, injury, and disaster. What we also know, what is contained in the phrase, “My refuge and my fortress,” is that, ultimately, we are held in God’s hands. We are secure in God’s love and power. Lent slows us down and reminds us of this; it reminds us, also, of God’s acquaintance with grief and sorrow.
This passage of scripture is more subtle than most others considered in this little book. It is less harsh, but it is not too bright for Lent. To consider this aspect of Lent is to hear God’s voice in verses 14-16: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”
This is what it means to seek refuge in God. Lent calls us back to the name of God, calls us back to a continuing awareness of the presence of God. Those who live in that awareness will be delivered by and to God in one way or another. This is not sleight of hand or word play; it is knowing simply that God is with us and will deliver us. Lent calls us to prayer and assures us that God hears, understands, and answers our prayer (v 15). When it seems that God does not hear or care or answer, Lent reminds us that God is with us in our fears and frustrations. In those moments, the God who seems far away is actually our refuge and fortress, and is at our side. Why doesn’t God just make it right in the obvious way of making it right? We don’t know why, but the scripture assures us God understands and hears, and is with us in the pain and struggle.
In verses 9-13 we find beautiful words that we would almost rather not read. They seem to be promises for someone else, and seem to indicate that there is blessing out there for which we, for some reason, don’t qualify. But a more careful reading, from the grayness of Lent, connects us with visions of the coming peaceable kingdom, when lions shall take naps with lambs, and the young shall play with venomous snakes without harm. This passage is difficult to understand; there’s no denying that. Even the devil knew that when he used verse 12 to tempt Jesus. We must not let this passage be used against us, either. We may express our frustration, fear, and anger to God, but we are not to test God with these promises.
A day is coming when the things we don’t understand will be made clear to us. In the meantime, God is with us; God is our refuge and fortress.
Calm our anxious minds and hearts; silence the frenzied voices.
We bow in your presence.
A word about the series
The Lenten season has always inspired many people to create everything from poems, art and music to a completely new direction in their lives. This Lenten season Tabernacle will be exploring many of those creations in the hope of inspiring you to compose in a medium that is natural for you. The paintings in the Sanctuary are of the Biblical Stations of the Cross. The artist, Grieg Leach, completed them in 2010. They will help us to visualize the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition to the paintings there is a Lenten devotional booklet, Return to Me, which is available in print or online. The Stations of the Cross also inspired these devotions, written by Terry York of Baylor University. Living with these two bodies of artistic expression based on the Biblical Stations of the Cross throughout the season of Lent should help us as we seek to return our lives to God by walking with Jesus though his final days.
Pray, read, think and return to God.