Thursday, 19 February 2015

Lent Fasting

What have you given up for Lent? I'm surprised how often that question is asked. It's interesting that many people who do not claim to be Christians do 'give up' something during the 6 weeks of Lent - typically chocolate or other inessential luxuries. There's nothing wrong with that. It can improve health and it helps to be disciplined.

If you are wondering when Lent is this year - it began yesterday on Ash Wednesday and continues for 6 weeks until Holy Week and Easter. It's not too late on this 2nd day of Lent to think about giving something up.

The Christian practice of fasting goes back 2000 years to its Jewish roots. Jesus was Jewish and so assumed his disciples would fast at certain times as part of their religious duty. He warned his disciples not to make it obvious to others by looking miserable or disfiguring their faces. The reward for that is immediate if you want others to think how pious you are, but lasting reward comes from God for those who fast in secret. (See Matthew 6: 16 - 18). .Such fasting is never an end in itself, but always a preparation for a great feast, such as Easter. Jesus fasted regularly but also enjoyed feasting.

If fasting is nothing more than self-denial for show and does not enrich others in some way, it is empty. John Chrysostom said:
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
One simple way of fasting is to do without one meal a week and give its cost to a charity that helps to feed the hungry.

Fasting is not a way to earn God's love. God loves everyone with a generosity of love that no-one deserves but all may open up to receive and share. If you choose to fast, it should be for the purpose of change, to develop a closer relationship with God and to become more like Jesus.

A Lenten fast does not have to involve food. It could be more important to give up something else - an unloving attitude for example. After all the purpose of Lent is to reorient ourselves to the values of God's kingdom, which could be summed up as loving God with all we have and are and loving our neighbour as ourself. That involves inner change in secret in order to be agents of change towards a more loving world.

Yesterday I found inspiration and challenge in Janet Binns' post 'Lent - A Season of Hope' which is why I end with her suggestion that this Lent we pray that our secret lives will "reconnect with God" beyond our imagination and that we "will be the instrument for change" that God created us to be. Whether or not you are giving something up for Lent, do read the rest of her post



Image Credit: Pixaby, public domain

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