My church newsletter column for St. Peter Lutheran Church, Greene, Iowa, for March, 2017.
Lent: A Fast that Matters
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
What is your favorite holiday of the year? I’d bet that it’s Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or maybe even Halloween (who doesn’t like candy?). Of course, I enjoy all those holidays, but my personal favorite is Ash Wednesday. (Are you surprised a pastor claims a semi-obscure church holiday as his favorite?)
The season of Lent focuses on repentance. It gives us a chance to slow down, examine our sins, and reflect on why Jesus died. Although spending 40 days focusing on our sinfulness might sound depressing and unpleasant, recognizing the depth of our sin allows us to begin to grasp the good news of how much God loves us that “while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Lent helps us recognize our dependence on God as our source of life. On Ash Wednesday, we engage in perhaps the most counter-cultural ritual we do as a church, receiving ashes on our foreheads and hearing the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It isn’t easy to hear that your body is temporary and that you will die, but in a society that often treats talking about death as taboo, it’s a message we need to hear. Genesis 2 speaks of God forming humans out of the dust of the earth and breathing into us the breath of life. We are dust, totally reliant on God for life.
Significantly, the ashes placed on your forehead are marked in the sign of the cross, the same mark traced on the forehead at baptism. Even as we are reminded that we are dust and are temporary, we are also held in the baptismal promise that God has claimed us. God takes the dust of our lives and gives us true, eternal life.
Often, people choose to fast or give up something for Lent to focus on God. This year, the theme of our midweek community Lenten services is “A Fast that Matters.” God calls us to practice an active fast, a fast lived out in service. Rather than merely giving up something for Lent, we will seek to take seriously the instructions in our Ash Wednesday reading from Isaiah 58: The fast God chooses is to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to feed the hungry. We deny ourselves in Lent not for our own sake, but to benefit our neighbors.
During this Lenten season, I invite you to reflect on what it means to be dependent on God. How does recognizing our need for God affect our priorities? How does seeing God as our source of life change how we use our time and money? How does acknowledging we are finite creatures affect our relationships?
And as you reflect, I encourage you to act. Find opportunities to fast in a way that matters. Give up something for a neighbor. Use your time to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Give thanks that God loves dusty people!
See you on Ash Wednesday!
-Pastor Daniel Flucke