- Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 OR
- Isaiah 58:1-12
- Psalm 103
- 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
- Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Vestiges of the early church’s experience of public penance still exist in the ceremony of ashes placed on the foreheads of penitents with the remonstrance: “Remember you are dust and unto you dust you shall return.” The weeks that followed were a time of intense reflection, self-scrutiny, and preparation for reincorporation into the community from which one was estranged by sin. For us, where public penance is not so common, Lent may provide a time for community and individual preparation for following Jesus on the most difficult paths, the path of self-sacrificing love.
Our readings from Isaiah and Matthew today remind us that fasting is not just about private devotion. God requires that we share what we have with the hungry, take the homeless and poor into our homes, clothe those in need, and be responsible for our families if we are to offer a fast acceptable to the Lord. However, we must also keep in mind that fasting, prayer, and support for the needy are not to be public demonstrations of piety. They are part of our private relationship with God.
As we explore more fully the Baptismal Covenant and the covenant of Torah (an excellent practice for Lent), we become increasingly aware of how far we have strayed from God’s ways. In The Book of Common Prayer, the Litany of Penitence (BCP 267-269) raises ethical issues that are worth reflection upon this Holy season:
- Exploitation of other people
- Dishonesty in daily life and work
- Indifference to injustice, human need, suffering, and cruelty
- Prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us
- Waste and pollution of God’s creation
Today Lent is a time of intensive preparation for us all. We study the world in its reality – its temptations, its shadows, its betrayals. We fast and pray and engage in spiritual preparation to follow Jesus faithfully to the end. We open ourselves to Jesus’ love; we try to live up to it.