In a few weeks, we will enter the most holy season of the Christian year. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on the Feast of the Resurrection, we will recall and participate in the great redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus. This annual remembrance reminds us that God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness are free gifts of grace obtained not by works, but received through faith.
I am humbled by the times I read of groups of Christians gathering for “fasting and prayer.” In America, many around the country called for a season of fasting and prayer to ensure that a President would be elected who would defend the rights of the pre-born. They prayed and fasted for a President who would allow us to live quiet and peaceful lives. I am thankful for the faith of these believers.
A common theme of many of these “seasons of fasting and prayer” is a desire to move the hand of God, or to influence the will and purposes of God. I am not sure moving the hand of God should be the motivation for a season of fasting and prayer.
The ancient and historic Church of Jesus certainly believed in seasons of fasting and prayer. Also, from the very beginning, the ancient church called not only for weekly fasting (every Friday), but for two times of extended fasting. This was during Advent and the great fast of Lent. The purpose of these fasts were not grounded in a desire to move God to do or not do something, but rather that we would purify ourselves to become vessels of God’s will and purpose. The fast would make our spirit, souls, and bodies sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit, so that our prayers and actions would line up with His Word, His will, and His ways.
These seasons were times of preparation for the great feasts of the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection. They still prepare us for a deeper appreciation and reception of the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and above all, the love of God.
These seasons of fasting and prayer prepare us for a deeper awareness of Christ among us in the Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist. These seasons make us aware of Christ among us in the hungry, the prisoners, the naked, the refugees, the immigrants, the thirsty, the voiceless, and least among us. Fasting and prayer purifies our heart to find again the mercy of God that manifests itself in seeking justice for those who are victims of tyranny or oppression.
These seasons also call to mind our own sinfulness and need of a Savior. They call to mind not only the sins we have committed, but the sins of omission where we too often pass by the one who has been robbed and beaten and left for dead, rather than having the merciful heart of the Good Samaritan. The seasons help us see the log in our own eye and to bring us to our knees in repentance. It calls us to repent of our having a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering of Christ all around us.
All times of fasting (Lent, Advent, and every Friday) are not a work of the flesh, but are designed to put ourselves in a posture of receptivity to the God who is seeking more of us because His love desires all of us.
The season of Lent calls us to allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts. How gracious is God to reveal our anger, resentment, lust, greed, doubt, sloth, pride, anxiety, faithlessness, and a host of other things that keep us from putting our total trust in Him and discovering the fullness of His incredible love.
I certainly do not want to down play those who fast at other times of the year, or those who call for seasons of prayer. There is always time for more prayer. But the historic life of the Church with the Daily Office, the regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the keeping of the Holy Seasons, and the keeping of the great seasons of fasting, are at least the minimal and sufficient for a healthy spiritual life and growth in the Lord.
In a few weeks we are called to invite the whole Church universal to a season of fasting. We will join with billions of sacramental Christians in this season. In the CEC, we will join our brothers and sisters in Africa, Pakistan, Asia, Europe, Brazil, and the United States in a forty day time of seeking the heart of God. I believe God is going to speak to us in the CEC. We are merely called to be faithful to the little things set before us.
I call each of you to a holy season of prayer and fasting. I call you to call the people committed to your charge to a season of prayer and fasting, an examination of conscience, to a time of studying the Holy Scriptures, to a time of repentance and amendment of life, and a time to renew our faith in Christ’s grace and love.
Be assured of my constant prayer and affection for each of you. In a few days, I will be traveling to the Holy Lands. Each day I will preside at a Holy Eucharist at one of the Holy sites. During those times I will offer special intention for each of you and for the work that God has given you.
Under His mercy,