Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ashes of Repentance

‘Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Isaiah 58:3b,4,6,7

“What is this fasting thing, anyway?”
“It’s when we give up chocolate for Lent..”
“Oh, well I suppose I could do with losing a few centimetres…”

Lent - a time of repentance and selfless action or self-improvement?
Is our focus on Jesus, or ourselves?
My daughters diet is still very limited, so I was not keen to dwell to heavily on the fasting side of Lent.  However, while reducing her chocolate bar intake for a few weeks won’t do her any harm, it won’t necessarily help with her spiritual development either!

This evening it was the Ash Wednesday service of Holy Communion with Imposition of Ashes. The Old Testament reading was Isaiah 58:1-12, and as I was asked to read it, I found myself pondering on the words, as it was not a passage that I was  familiar with. I found the words to be a wake up call - a reminder that God asks much more than lip service from us.  During Lent we recall the time Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his ministry, being tempted and tormented, while he went without.  Meanwhile we grumble about not eating chocolate!
This passage, however, makes it perfectly clear that God isn’t over interested in us improving our outward appearances by dieting.  The action he seeks from us is to help others, particularly those on the edge of society who cannot help themselves.  We are called to speak out against injustice, to set free the oppressed, share our food and clothing, help our families, stop accusing others, gossiping, and ensure that we keep Sundays special if we are serious about being transformed.  All of a sudden, Lent is looking a lot more costly, with the focus on inward transformation, yet a great deal more rewarding. Giving up chocolate, hard as that will be, suddenly seems to be far more trivial and insignificant.

Lord, this isn't about me, 
or my vanity,
but about becoming more like you.