As I’ve mentioned before, the early Church baptised those seeking to join it at Easter. Candidates for baptism spent the forty days before Easter in preparation and fasting, and from the seventh century all Christians were encouraged to join them and Lent as we know it was established.
One of the results of the Reformation emphasis on living out the faith only as it’s described in the Scriptures was that Protestants stopped fasting in Lent. It became something that those Catholics over there did, and was looked at with suspicion. But the ecumenical movement of last century taught Catholics and Protestants that we’re really not that different from one another, and that we have things to learn from each other. One of the things that many Protestants have learned is that fasting in the forty days before Easter is a helpful way to prepare ourselves for the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But we are still Protestants, with our ‘Protestant work ethic’ and fasting for its own sake isn’t enough for us. To simply fast seems almost self-indulgent, if that’s possible. For those of us who want to know that our fasting is helping others, not just preparing ourselves, Uniting World suggests that we give the money saved by fasting to a good cause through Lent Event. This year, Uniting World will use the money raised to provide water in PNG, support for Christian leaders in China, education in India, and peace-making workshops in South Sudan.
If you are giving up something like chocolate or coffee or wine or fast food, you might like to take one of the stickers or pledge postcards that Uniting World has sent us.
Whether or not you’re planning to give something up, I’d like to invite everyone to take something up, and spend the forty days of Lent reading the Gospel according to Matthew, the lectionary gospel for this year. There are twenty-eight chapters and forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday (not counting Sundays which are never fast days) so I’ve prepared the following timetable for reading. I’ll be commenting on each day’s passage on the church’s Facebook page, too.
This Lent, we can read through the gospel together as we join Jesus on his journey to the cross. There are many prayers asking for God to enlighten us in our reading; here are two from the church’s history that you might find helpful.
Lord, you have given us your word for a light to shine upon our path; grant us so to meditate on that word, and to follow its teaching, that we may find in it the light that shines more and more until the perfect day; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Eternal God, who caused all scripture to be written for our learning; help us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
May we all spend a holy and disciplined Lent.