Reader: “When you fast,”
Response: “do not look somber.”
Scripture: Matthew 6:16-18
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
Fasting has long been a religious discipline in many faiths. In the Jewish and Christian tradition it is associated with repentance. A Jewish fast would typically be from morning until evening, eating only after sundown. We read in the Scriptures frequently of “fasting in sackcloth and ashes.” The longing that comes within us because of a lack of food during a fast, reminds us of our complete and utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting is symbolic of the discipline it takes to turn away from sin. There is a longing that must be resisted. Fasting is not simply a physical act. Fasting sharpens the mind, the spirit, and quickens spiritual perception. Fasting of some sort is a normal part of Lent. Again, Jesus said when you fast not if you fast. Sometimes there are short total fasts for a day or two or more. On other occasions there are longer fasts, maybe from specific foods, or perhaps choosing to eat only one meal a day for the specific purpose of being liberated from a fleshly habit or desire. Fasting was a normal and regular part of the life of every major character in the Bible. Maybe they knew something we don’t know. If this is a new area to you, it will be worth doing your own Bible study on “fasting,” and then doing it. As Jesus pointed out, the whole purpose is to deepen one’s relationship with our heavenly Father. The practice often enables one to gain a clearer focus on what is significant, what is unimportant, and clarifies the clutter of the mind and soul. Try setting aside a regular period of fasting these days, perhaps fasting for one meal or one day a week for starters. (Of course be sure that you don’t have a medical condition that would make fasting unhealthy or dangerous.) Giving alms for the poor, prayer, and fasting, three of the central themes of this season, are three of the disciplines practiced regularly by our Savior.
Music: “As the Deer” Masters Chorale
Come now, little man turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’ ―Anselm 1033-1109