Thursday, March 17, 2011
From the Rector’s Desk
As prepared for my congregation at St. Benedict's
Why do we fast in Lent (each according to one’s state of health)? A lot of theories get thrown around about this question, and a few half-baked answers come with them. The most clear and consistent answer from the Bible may seem strange at first; that is until we practice it. The reason given for fasting is to humble oneself before God. This is stated most directly in Psalm 35:13: “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.” The Law of Moses associates fasting primarily with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), detailed in Leviticus chapter 16. Jewish tradition calls this day “the Fast,” which is reflected in the New Testament (Acts 27:9).
This humbling of one’s soul, to humble yourself before Almighty God, is very consistent with the purpose of Lent. The practice is not designed to make you feel humble (though it can). Rather, it is the Biblical method by which one does humble oneself in practice. And, just as the quotation from the Psalm (above) demonstrates fasting that goes with prayer for others, so the Prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s chosen fast is accompanied by works of mercy, giving alms to care for the needs of the poor. This combines the three things Jesus spells out for us as works we should all do in secret, not to be seen by others, but by God Who sees in secret. In the sixth chapter of Matthew we see that Christ’s Disciples (i.e. all Christians) are supposed to practice good works of prayer, fasting and mercy to the poor, content to please an audience of One.