*The 2014 Lenten season began March 5th and ends on April 17th. It is a time of fasting the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent for Catholics and most Reformed and Protestant denominations.
The 40 days is what scholars believe to be symbolic of the 40 hours Jesus spent in the tomb spanning three days from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning. This belief is supported by the Biblical significance of the number 40 – Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days before he began his public ministry; the children of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years before entering into the Promised Land, and other references throughout scripture.
While the Lent tradition is observed in various ways among different churches and cultures, its purpose is mainly for the faithful to give up certain luxuries like certain food, drink, or some vice as a form of penitence. It’s a spiritual discipline; an outward show of expression to draw us nearer to God, but is it the true fast? Is our observance pleasing to God? We fast with an expectation of God’s blessings but are we fasting in vain?
The Bible reads: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the 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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn…Then you will call and the Lord will answer…” [Isaiah 58: 3-9, NIV]
There’s an old story I heard about the chicken and the pig debating their value-add to a plate of ham and eggs. In the end the pig explained “What you bring to the table is a contribution, but I bring a sacrifice.” When we fast are we merely tipping our hats to God, or are we really committed to doing what is well-pleasing in his sight? Observing Lent is fine, but what a difference we would make if we “lent” ourselves to the needs of others every day in and out of season as a true sacrifice and testament of our faith.