Many Christians observe the season of Lent for 6½ weeks before Easter. Some take up some sort of lenten discipline during this time. During our Ash Wednesday liturgy that began the lenten season I extended the following invitation:
"I invite you to observe a holy Lent, committing yourselves to self-examination and penitence, prayer and fasting, almsgiving and works of love; and to attend to the word of God and receive the sacraments of Christ as we journey through these forty days to the great Three Days of Jesus’ death and resurrection."
The mention of "fasting" in that invitation is what prompts many people to "give something up" for Lent. The intention is that denying yourself something is a way to connect to God more fully. Paul Jaster, a Lutheran pastor in Ohio, has suggested that our fast ought to reflect the economy of holy God: an economy of gift, of giving, of gifting, of grace, rather than the economy of sinful human beings: an economy of get, of grab, of greed, of have, of hoard. A holy fast would then be fasting not only from food, but also curbing our appetite for constant consumption, accumulation, and gain.
I know a pastor in Hamilton who fasts for 10 days during Lent each year. He breaks the fast into a 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, then 4 day fast at some point during the 40 days of Lent. His is a real fast where he eats nothing and drinks only water and maybe some fruit juice on the longer fasts. He’s a stronger man than I am.
For the past couple of years I’ve given up snacks and pop during Lent. My fast is partly for health reasons. You see, I carry a bit (more than a bit?) too much weight around and my lenten fast helps me shed some of that weight. The problem is that my fast hasn’t necessarily been connecting me to God more fully. The part about denying myself something I really like is sure happening. I often crave some Doritos or corn chips and an icy Coke as I sit and watch TV. I’ve become all too aware of the economy of get, grab, greed, have, hoard, as I watch commercials telling me how much I’d really like a greasy snack or sugar laden pop. This is one lenten discipline that might have a good effect on my health but isn’t doing so much for me spiritually.
On the other hand, the disciplines of prayer and worship do enrich me during Lent. I’m gathering with a small group of people for a weekly Bible Study that enriches me by the fellowship I have with other Christians and by learning together as we study God’s word. In our church we gather on Wednesdays for a service of Evening Prayer preceded by a simple meal of soup and bread. I’m participating in God’s economy of gift, giving, gifting, grace as I contribute to our collection of food for the foodbank. And every Sunday I receive and serve the Lord’s Supper as God’s people gather for worship.
Lent also coincides with the end of winter and beginning of spring. It comes from an old English word for springtime, lencten, and we’re noticing the change in the weather and the lengthening of the days. Just as the thoughts of many turn to spring cleaning, Lent is a time for a spring housecleaning of the soul. The lenten disciplines are an invitation to clear the clutter and wash away the grit and grime that can accumulate in a life. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving and works of love, the disciplines of Lent, may turn us inward for a time, but they also send us back to earth, back to serving the world so loved by God.
May you keep a holy Lent and may you be blessed by our gracious and giving God. Shalom.