“…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
Have you ever turned down your car radio so you could see better? Or closed your eyes to hear better, or to savor the flavor of what you’re eating or drinking?
I’ve been thinking about the connection between Easter and Lent: Why do many Christians fast, or give something up for Lent, in preparation for Easter?
I also wanted to know more about fasting in general. Fasting is not only a Christian thing – Muslims fast for Ramadan; Mormons fast the first Sunday of every month; Jews fast six days per year; and even before Columbus came to the Americas, people here fasted. And fasting isn’t only refraining from all food; it could also be refraining from certain kinds of foods, or only eating at certain times of the day. For a couple years, my fast was logging off Facebook.
I read a CNN article that suggested one reason humans have fasted for millennia is to draw our attention to spiritual things. Our bodies and souls are tightly intertwined, so changing how we interact with something we contact as often as food can be a constant reminder, like a string tied around our hearts, to pay attention to God, to God’s work in the world, and to our neighbors.
John Calvin thought regular fasting might appease God’s wrath, but if you’ve heard enough of my sermons, you probably already know I don’t believe God maintains a posture of anger with us humans in the first place. I don’t believe anything we do, including fasting, could make God love us more, or less. I also don’t believe fasting is a way to draw God’s attention to us, like some kind of hunger strike, though many people in scripture seemed to think it worked that way. It seems to me that fasting a tool to draw our attention back to God.
So how does this connect to Easter? If Lent tunes our hearts in to a reality beyond what we can see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and taste with our mouths, then when Easter arrives, our hearts will be better tuned to sense God’s grace.
Now, if you didn’t give up food for Lent, that’s perfectly fine; we can draw our attention to spiritual things in many ways. If you did not give anything up for Lent, perhaps because (like me) you forgot, that’s okay too; and there’s no rule that says Lent is the only time we can “turn down the radio” to pay extra attention to our souls, to God, and to our neighbors.
Rev. David Schell