Today begins the first Lenten season our church community will participate in together. As it is our first time around, we want to focus in on the traditional Lenten themes of fasting, prayer, and (alms)giving.
As we journey together towards Easter, consider how you might focus your time, energy, and resources in these three areas:
Perhaps it is food, perhaps it is facebook – we are called to give up something, or give up our time in order to do something. The point is not whether we can perfectly keep our fast during the season. The point is that in fasting, our whole selves are reminded of the very idea of sacrifice and how central it is to life itself. As one writer puts it, Lent teaches us:
…the core truth of Christianity: we must give up. We must give up not this or that habit or food or particular sin, but the entire project of self-justification, of making God’s love contingent on our own achievements. And the liturgy of this day goes right to the ultimate reality we struggle against, which is death itself. We are reminded, both by the words we say and the burned palms imposed on our foreheads, that we will die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Give up! Give up, for you will not escape death. (Pastor Kai Nilsen, Renovare)
Ultimately, without Jesus’ sacrifice in his Incarnation and death, life would not possible. This is the point. It is through death and sacrifice that life will come.
Right in the middle of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” he writes this:
“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.”
I don’t know what meaning Eliot was trying to evoke here, but when I read these two statements, it reminds of what prayer is to be like. As we enter into prayer—into dialogue with the Triune God—it will inevitably remind us of what is and what is not important in this life. In other words, through prayer we are able to get “in sync,” as my seminary professor used to say, with the Kingdom. Teach us to care about everything that is important to you, God. And teach us not to care about the things that aren’t. And, of course, teach us to be still before you. Because in the craziness of life in our modern society, there is something significant about being still.
Giving is at the heart of the Gospel. “This is my body, which is given for you.” (Lk.22:19) Isaiah 58 sums this is idea up pretty well. The most common theme during Lent has to do with fasting. But in Isaiah 58, we see God’s true intentions for fasting:“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Fasting and giving are bound together. We fast, not for the sake of piety, to become more holy (although this isn’t a bad thing). We fast—for the sake of others. Jesus gave up His life for us. We are called to lay down our lives as well for those around us. And we do this by acts of giving—of ourselves and/or our resources.
Fasting. Praying. Giving. Consider for yourself how you might pursuit each of this during this season, as we begin this Lenten journey together.