12 March 2008

Persevering in the Fast

The Western Churches began the Lenten fast back on February 6, Eastern Churches began their Lenten fast this past Monday, March 10, and I notice that Western Rite Orthodox Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday today. I wish a most blessed Lententide to all of our brothers and sisters now embarking on their time of fasting and preparing to celebrate our Lord's victory over death.

At the same time, the beginning of Lent for our Orthodox friends is a good reminder to me, at least, to keep persevering in the Lenten fast. The 40 days of Lent are a long time! Yes, as we heard the first three Sundays in Lent, it's all about the battle - against temptations, against God when He seems silent, and against the devil himself. Then Laetare (Fourth Sunday in Lent) comes as a bit of a respite, a lightening of the load, so to speak, before we press on toward the goal of Holy Week and Easter. As of this last Sunday, Judica (Fifth Sunday in Lent), we have entered the two-week Passiontide in which we focus more intently on our Lord's Passion. And the fast continues - always in Christian freedom, of course, and always with the purpose of focusing our complete and undivided attention on our Lord's great sacrifice to forgive our sins and restore us to communion with the blessed and holy Trinity.

With all this in mind, it's great to reread and ponder again these words from Urbanus Rhegius:
A special kind of fasting takes place, however, when in the face of great calamity or for the sake of prayer people undertake for themselves a day or more of fasting, or when a bishop or civil ruler proclaims a period of fasting, as did Jehoshaphat, King of Judah [2 Chr 20:3]. And the Apostle prescribes such fasting for spouses: "Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to fasting and prayer" [1 Cor 7:5]. For this reason I approve of the Lenten fast, although in the early church it was observed in Christian freedom, so that by fasting people might prepare themselves for more ardent and attentive prayer and for giving thanks in the Supper of the Lord, both for the most precious death of Christ by which we are redeemed from all evils in eternity, and for his most victorious resurrection that is the source of our justification and resurrection (Preaching the Reformation: The Homiletical Handbook of Urbanus Rhegius, p. 83).
May God bless all who in Christian freedom persevere in the Lenten fast with the express purpose of preparing for an ardent and prayerful - and fruitful - celebration of our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection!

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