Ash Wednesday and an Invitation to Lenten Practices
We have found our rhythms and our practices of a believing community again in the season of death and life. Easily forgotten among the coming beach trips of Spring Break and the turn of the seas is that today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of the season of Lent.
Lent is a season of hope. By finding ourselves in a time where we are made aware of our brokenness and need for a savior, we journey to the foot of the Cross first before we stumble upon the Empty Tomb. Over the next 6 weeks, we will enter into this season. Lent is 40 days minus the Sundays because Sundays are for Celebrating, 40 days to respond to a call of discipleship and self-sacrifice as an act of spiritual worship that we might be formed into the new creation that Christ intended us to be. Lent is not a time where we earn our forgiveness or a time to flex our spiritual muscles by abstaining from everything. But, instead, it is a season to remind us that we are creature, not creator and daily we need to come to the cross.
Along with all the other ways that one might observe this season, we specifically want to invite each member of our community into a corporate observance by fasting.
Fasting is one of those spiritual practices that seem foreign to us in the Western, developed world. Practically, most Western Christians don’t understand fasting and choose not to participate in this discipline for a number of reasons. Our relative affluence has trained us to see food in a very particular way and the idea that we could, or should, go without food seems unnecessarily ascetic or legalistic. Fasting seems like the practice of mystics alone and we prefer not to wade into those deep waters, or perhaps venture into that desert wilderness with Christ.
Our misunderstanding either keeps us from fasting altogether or taints all of our attempts at it. Many people see fasting as a spiritual feat—an opportunity to accomplish something they have never been able to do. Some see it as an opportunity to rid their lives of unhealthy habits they’ve been needing to deal with. Still, others see fasting as a means of acquiring what they need—whether that be direction, provision, or favor. Ultimately it becomes self-centered or manipulative. That kind of fasting yields very little, and after these frustrating and futile attempts, we simply stop bothering very often.
The invitation during the season of Lent is toward the opposite— self-denial. In this season we embrace humility and obedience. Fasting cannot be embraced as a means of elevating or bettering ourselves. Isaiah 58 draws attention to the fasting the Lord has chosen for his people. True fasting is always centered on the Lord and the other—the oppressed, hungry, and forgotten. Our lives must begin to take on the same sacrificial shape as that of Christ’s ministry. We choose to take up our cross and walk with him toward the death of our selves. But our fasting is filled with the hope and expectation of resurrection life! We have the hope of being sustained in the wilderness by God himself.
So we invite you, fast with us in the days ahead. During the season of Lent, we as a staff will be fasting from Thursdays after dinner until 3 pm on Fridays. This is an observance of the time from the Last Supper until Jesus was taken down from the Cross.
There are other ways to fast too: all day, sunrise to sunset, one meal a day. And, if Fridays just can't work for you, that's okay. As we have said, this is a practice that is intended to shape and form us deeper into the life of Christ, it is not a hard and fast rule. Find a day that is possible for you and commit to it in this season.
In addition to fasting, many people elect to also abstain from something for the duration of the Lenten season as well. We highly encourage this practice. Give up something reasonable, something that you will notice, something that you don't have to, or need to, give up. Give up something that is good - this reminds yourself of something greater that is available to you through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
If you do abstain, pick up a practice as well. Many during this time will give extra to the poor among us in our city, or to organizations across the globe. For example, if you fast with us on Fridays through lunch, you can use the money you normally would have spent on lunch to then buy a meal for someone in need. Or if you give up Netflix, use that time to engage in prayer and studying.
In all of this, there is no rule. We aren't earning anything or proving our holiness. Our hope is that we would draw closer to Jesus and be more and more shaped by him and allow our lives to reflect who he is.