Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40-day (Sundays excluded) season of Lent. Lent is a preparatory season of fasting and prayer that Christians globally and historically have commemorated in preparation for Resurrection (Easter) Sunday. In a spirit of unity with the universal church, Missio Dei observes the Lenten season by inviting our congregations to participate in the following ways:
Ash Wednesday - On Ash Wednesday, we hold a special meeting for prayer and reflection, where we meditate on our mortality. This meditation is not for the sake of being morbid, but allows us to search the depths of our sin and the heights of God’s love for sinners.
Fasting - Fasting is the temporary abstention from food in order to more effectively reflect and be reminded of our need to pray. There are three types of fasts described in the Bible, two of which are common and provide a good pattern for us, and the other is simply described. Fasting is a good physical and spiritual balance between absence and abundance.
The least common form of fasting is absolute fasting. Absolute fasting involves the eating of no food and drinking of no water. Moses and Paul participated in an absolute fast. Moses’ fast lasted 40 days and nights, while he communed with God atop Mt. Sinia (Deuteronomy 9). Paul endured an absolute fast when his sight was taken away after an encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). It is inconclusive whether or not Jesus’ fast in the wilderness before His temptation by the Devil was absolute. Luke does record that “He ate nothing during those days.” There are no requirements to participate in an extended absolute fast and it isn’t recommended for beginners, but there can be a benefit for short-term (up to three days) absolute fasting.
A more common type of fasting is partial fasting. This is the abstention from certain types of pleasurable foods and activities. The fasted-from foods in the Bible include, but are not limited to, pleasant bread, meats, and alcohol (Daniel 10:3), and the activities include such things as sex.
The most common form of fasting is regular fasting. Regular fasting includes the drinking of water, but the avoidance of meals. The heart behind general fasting is to willingly go without meals and use that hunger to remind your body of your dependence upon God. It is important that we consider Jesus’ instructions about fasting, especially because we live in a culture of abundance and immediacy. He says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Fasting is a good practice to remind us that discomfort is not a bad thing and that there is a deep connection between our body and our spirit. The Bible promotes the spiritual value of fasting, and health experts describe its corollary health benefits. At Missio, we are inviting our congregations to participate in all three fasts:
A Regular Fast of Preparation - We invite the congregations to participate in a three-day regular fast beginning the day following Ash Wednesday and concluding with communion on Sunday morning to kick off the Lenten Season.
Seasonal Partial Fasting - We encourage participants to abstain from one or two things for the duration of the Lenten Season (Sundays excluded) for the purpose of reflective prayer and a reminder of God’s good provision. This often takes the form of abstaining from social media, technology, treats, etc.
Day-long Absolute Fasting - From sundown on Sunday to sundown on Monday we invite the congregations to participate in an absolute fast each week during Lent. Use the day to prepare your heart for the devotional theme each week, and take opportunities to break the fast on Monday evening with friends and family.
Holy Week - The last week of the Lenten Season begins on Palm Sunday and carries through the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Events of the week include a Passover celebration on Thursday evening, Good Friday worship, and Easter Sunday celebration. A separate guide is available to give instructions on holding a Passover Seder.
As always, we want to remind everyone that there is no abiding law for the season of Lent. Participation should be driven by an attitude of grace and joy. Check out the link below for this year’s Lenten Guide!