Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that sets the tone for our observance of Lent. Isaiah implores us: return to the Lord with fasting and weeping and mourning – and blow those trumpets! Jesus instructs us to fast, pray and give alms, but be quiet and keep it to ourselves.
Thursday’s passage from Deuteronomy exhorts us: “Choose Life!” But in the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells us to be willing to lose our lives and to embrace the cross.
And Friday, the prophet Isaiah delivers God’s judgment that we’ve got this fasting thing all wrong, and the gospel indicates that Jesus himself doesn’t give a feather or a fig for it – he much prefers wedding banquets.
So – one might be a trifle confused and plausibly ask: what is it, God? You tell us one thing, and then you contradict it. Are we to live our Lenten journey in public or private? Are we celebrating or mourning? Living or dying? Are we fasting or feasting? What exactly do you want of us?
Bothered by the contradictions in the lectionary, and though I know that God’s truth goes way beyond human clarity, I thought I’d check the dictionary, starting with “fast.”
FAST: (I read):
vi: to abstain from food; to eat sparingly or abstain from some foods
adj: characterized by quick motion; moving or able to move rapidly
adv: in a rapid manner; quickly
n: the practice of or the time of fasting.
adj: firmly fixed; adhering firmly; not easily freed; firmly loyal
That’s it, of course. We’ve got our parts of speech mixed up! It’s not the noun that God values, and it’s not the verb that Christ asks of us –
It’s all in the adjective – it’s about holding fast, firmly fixed, loyal, connected.
What God wants – and what Jesus is most interested in – is FAST-ENING. Our relatedness; inseparability; stuckness. Remember? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This “fasting” is not just about our personal unworthiness and conversion. “Who cares,” I imagine God saying, “how pinched and pallid you get from not eating if you don’t care about the ones who fast because they have no choice, who are deprived of the basics you take for granted? If your heart is not fastened on them, your heart is not fastened on me.”
And I hear Jesus adding, in his reference to the bridegroom’s presence, “Are you fastened on me – Have you ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ?’ Then you have an abundance of hope and joy to share with your sisters and brothers.”
Fast if you want. But make it a fast of connection. A Fastening-fast. With whom, for whom, do you fast? Whose burdens, fears, sorrows and hungers do you share? For whom do you make this a prayer? For whom do you act?
Feast if you want. Easter is real, now and forever, and Lent does not erase that. But feasting makes no sense without connection, either. A Fastening-feast. So, who will be your guests? Which highways and byways – or places closer to home – will you comb? To whom will you reach out in sharing your abundance?
Then, says God “Your light shall break forth like the dawn…and the glory of the Lord shall be your guard. Then you shall call for help and the Lord will say “Here I am.” (Isaiah 58)
“Here I am, eternally, unfathomably, and passionately…fastened: on you.”