“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites….But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father…” Matthew 6:16-18 NRSV.
Our final week of Lent begins on Palm Sunday, one final week of Lenten discipline. If fasting was difficult or overlooked, you have one more week to embrace this spiritual journey leading you to Easter. Fasting can be your personal sign of repentance, a desire to turn your attention to God and your lament for yesterday’s sins and failings.
Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert; he struggled with temptations preparing for a ministry that led through the cross to the glory of resurrection, God’s righteousness.
Fasting is a practice of the church. St Basil the Great (330-379) embraced the positive aspects of fasting, encouraging Christians to fast and abstain in order to “protect one(self) from what is evil.” He traced fasting to the Garden of Eden and God’s command to refrain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In his pre-Lenten sermon St. Basil warned the faithful not to make fasting gloomy, instead keep in mind the healing process of fasting leading to the Easter victory.
Martin Luther encourages us to fast but cautions us not to let fasting become a “good work.” Fasting should instead inspire a life tempered by frugality and sobriety.
Fasting is putting aside that which impedes, that which hinders us from a communal life with one another and with God. Fasting provides us with a lens through which God’s grace becomes more visible; fasting reframes our priorities as individuals and as a community.
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton encourages us to fast on the 21st day of each month to be in solidarity with families struggling with hunger. Of this monthly fast she writes: “We fast to be in solidarity with neighbors who suffer famine, who have been displaced, and who are vulnerable to conflict and climate change. We fast with immigrants who are trying to make a better future for their families and now face the risk of deportation. We fast in solidarity with families on SNAP, who often run out of food by the last week of the month.”
Fasting has a purpose. If you’ve not fasted these first four weeks of Lent, fast during Holy Week by voluntarily refraining so your eye and your heart will be focused instead on Easter, on the glorious day when death is overcome through Christ’s resurrection to new life.
This new life in Christ is beautifully described in this story about Joseph Sittler:
“While in Israel, his car broke down. He took it to a mechanic, a native-born Israeli. It took several hours to fix, but when Sittler came to get it, the mechanic was standing there smiling at a perfectly running engine. And he said, “sedeka.”
“Sittler asked him to say the word again and, when he repeated “sedeka,” Sittler knew he was hearing the Hebrew word for righteousness. Yes, that’s righteousness. He now had a well-functioning engine, each part working for the good of the whole.
“That’s also the righteousness God envisions: Humans and all creation working in harmony – pistons, spark plugs, carburetor – whatever your task, doing it right and well, involved and working for the good of all.
“That takes engagement, involvement, even getting dirty. If the pistons decided they wanted to be set apart, to remain pure and clean and untouched, then the car wouldn’t run.
“Rather, this active, dynamic work of righteousness sends us smack into the mud and grease of this world. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” And the light isn’t put under a bushel. It’s not lit and then removed from everything – to protect it – to keep it pure.”
In this last week of Lent, fast by setting aside the clutter that absorbs so much of one’s time and talent. Let this Lenten lament, this Lenten repentance, this Lenten abstinence be the lens through which one envisions a new righteousness — God’s righteousness, a new life, a life in Christ, a new heaven on earth made known to us on Easter.