Observing the Lenten Discipline
“And whenever you fast, do not look somber, like the hypocrites, for they mark their faces to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 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 who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18, NRSVue)
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Lent—the 40 days before Easter (not including the 6 Sundays because they’re “mini-Easters”)—designated as a time to prepare for the culmination of our salvation in the resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime, we reckon with our sinfulness and the myriad ways we diminish our lives and the lives of others through our brokenness. We repent, seeking forgiveness from others and God.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and in the Service of the Ashes, we receive the call to observe the Lenten Discipline. The words below are the charge we give to the congregation.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season, converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way, the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
Many people interpret the call to self-denial as one in which we give up something for Lent. This practice challenges the norm in our culture of self-indulgence, reminding us that we can do without many of the things we treat as essential in our lives. Others take on new behaviors to form disciplines that counteract our selfish desires. Either way, the spirit in which we do these things should and must be a spirit of humility. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (printed above) regarding fasting and the need to fast in a way that doesn’t draw attention to us is a good guide for practicing any of the Lenten Disciplines.
In whatever ways you choose to prepare for the gift of salvation represented in Easter, may we encourage one another to greater faithfulness and humility so that our disciplines honor God and draw us closer to him.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, and don’t forget to bring a friend! — Senior Pastor Rev. Dale Cohen