If you’re an Orthodox Christian, this week marked the first day of a 55 day journey called Lent. I like calling it a “journey” more than a “season” because that helps me remember that there is a purpose.
Seasons come and seasons go and nothing really changes. We go through winter for a while and then it’s time for spring. And then soon spring goes and then it’s time for summer. Just a season. Something we go through just because the calendar tells us that it’s the time of year to go through it.
A journey however is something we go through for a purpose.
We are moving. We are going somewhere. That is what Lent should be – a journey which leads to the Holy Week of Pascha in which we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Pascha or Resurrection (also known as Easter, but I don’t like that term because it doesn’t really express the meaning of the feast) is the Feast of all Feasts. It is the day we celebrate that our God is not dead but alive. He is alive and there is an empty tomb somewhere in Jerusalem that bears witness of that fact every single day.
So Lent is a journey to get there. And if you’re going to go on a journey, you must be prepared. You don’t just hop in the car and start driving. You first make sure that a) you know where you’re going and b) you have everything you need to get there. Same with this journey of Lent.
Where are we going? That’s what I said above – the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That’s our destination.
Now the question for today is this: what do I need to take with me to get there?
Ask that question to an Orthodox Christian – especially one who has been in the church for a long time – and the first response you’ll get is FASTING!
“Fasting fasting fasting. It’s gotta be fasting. Nothing is more important than fasting during Lent. Fast from meat. Fast from dairy. Fast from sweets. Fast from TV. Fast from movies. Fast from anything and everything that you can think of. Fast fast FAST!!!”
Most of us think about fasting as the main activity during Lent. While fasting is definitely an important part of Lent, it would be foolish for us to make fasting the focus of this journey. If you read Isaiah 58, it is clear that God cares about more than just “afflicting the soul” with fasting.
“Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5)
God is looking for more than just torturing oneself with fasting and ascetic practices. That isn’t to say that fasting isn’t important (so hold on to that hate email), but there’s gotta to be more. Much more!
The LORD goes on to say in verses 6-9:
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
WOW! What a promise! How fantastic is that? Did you read what the LORD promised?
“your light shall break forth like the morning…your healing shall spring forth speedily…the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard… you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
AMAZING! Now that is a place I’d love to get to – wouldn’t you?
How do we get there? That’s what this journey is all about. We don’t just fast because it’s that time of year to fast. We fast as part of a package of supplies that we take with us on our journey towards Pascha. Fasting is part of toolkit, but there’s so much more that’s needed.
So please please please don’t equate Lent with just fasting. God certainly doesn’t. There’s so much more to this journey than just going from hamburgers to veggie burgers, real milk to soy milk, milk chocolate to dark chocolate (or Nutella depending on where you were raised :) ).
Lent is much more than fasting. Isn’t it?