From the Pastor’s Desk March 2019

On March 6, we will enter into the season of Lent. Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. It is, above all, a season of preparation for celebrating Easter. Historically, Lent began as a season of fasting (about which I shall say more in a moment) and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time of penance for all Christians.

Lent culminates with the Great Three Days – sometimes called the Triduum or Pasch – from sunset Holy Thursday through sunset Easter Day. This is the climax of not only the season of Lent but of the entire Christian calendar and is a bridge into the Easter season. These days proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’s passion (suffering), death, and resurrection. During these days, which our church marks with our worship service on Maundy Thursday, the community of faith journeys with Jesus from the upper room, to the cross, to the tomb, and to the garden.

One of the ways in which Christians mark the Lenten season is by the spiritual discipline of fasting. There is a strong Biblical base for the practice of fasting, which is lifted up in both the Old and New Testaments. Fasting has been a part of Methodism from its early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting an important part of a Christian’s life, and he fasted every week. To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking (a particular sin for most American Christians). He believed that it allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if it was combined with giving to the poor. Wesley advised against extreme fasting and fasting for those in fragile health. Anyone who seeks to fast by abstaining from food for any period of time should consult with his or her physician.

Fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food. But fasting during Lent can be a very personal and spiritual time. The United Methodist Church does not have any official guidelines on how persons should observe Lent. Some choose to give up a meal every week or a day of The spiritual week during Lent. Another spirit of fasting can include a restriction of activities such as watching television, shopping, for many networking. Others may choose to give up a specific food for the duration of Lent.

The spiritual discipline of fasting is just that: a spiritual discipline. It is not intended as a means of losing weight or dieting (though for many the practice may bring about a side benefit of increased health). Fasting is also something that is done in recognition of the good gifts that God has bestowed upon us, but with the understanding that we are not bound to the gifts, rather to the Giver. Thus, we do not use fasting as a means of quitting a bad habit (such as smoking). While I’d encourage you all to quit any bad habit you may have (including smoking), fasting as a spiritual discipline intends for us to abstain from certain gifts (be they food or Facebook) for a time with the intent of returning to them.

Finally, when we fast during Lent, we do well to remember that the season of Lent is forty days (not including Sundays) which also mark the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before he was tempted by Satan. We remember also that every Sunday, whether in Lent or not, is a mini-celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, and thus a “feast-day.” Feast-days are days of celebration (and if there is anything that a Christian would celebrate, it is the resurrection of Christ!). It is not appropriate to fast on a feast-day.

Pope Francis commented a few years ago on the practice of fasting and encouraged Christians world-wide to give up overlooking the disenfranchised, poor, and alien in our midst. I would add my humble voice to Pope Francis’ encouragement for Christians to fast by urging each of you to participate in a fast of some sort this Lenten season, in preparation for Easter this year. I hope that in your fast you experience God’s presence with you.

-Pastor Todd-Paul