By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent; the season of penitence, of fasting, of reviewing our sinful nature and journeying with Christ toward the Cross.
The question on everyone’s mind this week: What are you giving up for Lent?
Have you decided? Are you giving up anything? Some take this Lenten discipline very seriously. Many people have different Lenten disciplines that they partake in to help focus on the Sacrifice Christ made for us.
Giving up something for Lent is indeed a good practice, but what happens when those 40 days are over? When choosing a discipline, if we choose to do one, could it be one that we continue past the 40 days of Lent? Could it be something that is life-giving, that maybe even benefits others rather than simply denying ourselves? One of the assigned Scripture readings for Ash Wednesday is Isaiah 58:1-12. This text calls into question certain types of fasting and the reasoning behind it.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
I absolutely love reading. God redefines what it means to fast in this text. Fasting is not solely about serving our own interests, or to make us more disciplined or deprived of our favorite treats for five weeks. Fasting, when described in this text, assumes a deep self-examination of ourselves to discover where our heart, and thus, our treasure, really is. Fasting, according to this reading from Isaiah, seems to be a call of repentance from the things that prevent us from serving others and a renewed commitment to fighting injustices in this world.
When we receive those ashes on our forehead, that trace of the baptismal Cross, how will God work in us as we seek to serve our neighbor in love, to uphold our baptismal promises to live among God’s faithful people, to come to the word of God and the Holy supper, to read the Scriptures, work for peace and justice; all in response to the abundant grace and mercy that was given to us in and through the Cross?
Ultimately, in this world, it’s really not about US or what we do. It’s about what Christ has done in this world is FOR us. As we walk in this Lenten journey together, may God walk with us, stirring in us new life in the one who gave his life for us; Jesus Christ our Lord.