Texts: Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-17
For everything there is a season. Of all the church liturgical seasons, Lent is my favorite. No jingle bells, no presents, no hidden eggs filled candy, no commercialism. Just good, old fashion reflecting, repenting, and reconciling. It’s nice to have this time set aside for such important part of our life with Christ. While we’re supposed to be forsaking our wicked ways and returning to the Lord all year round, talk about this in our life together, live this way as individuals and as a community – it doesn’t always happen that way. And that’s understandable – God is so big, so vast, that it can be a challenge to keep on the forefront of our minds and hearts ALL we’re supposed to be doing in our relationship with God. So we have these liturgical seasons which help us remember various parts of our faith and relationship with God. We have Advent when we celebrate Christ’s coming, past, present, and future; we have Pentecost where we celebrate the gift of the Spirit and all that means for our life together. We have Lent, where we focus on righting our relationship with God and with God’s people.
Not that we’re don’t forsake the wicked and return to God during the rest of the year. At least, we’re supposed to. The sad truth of it is, during the rest of the year we don’t get as much repenting in as we probably should. Yes, every Sunday we pray a prayer of confession – a Presbyterian standard – in recognition that we do need to repent. For many of us, we see that time as a wonderful opportunity for serious reflection. For others of us, maybe not. While the prayer has meaning for me now, I know when I was a teenager sitting in the pews, during that time I’d mostly look ahead in the bulletin, seeing what hymns we’d be singing, glad when the confession was short. While it’s important that we pray for forgiveness in our live together, this time of repentance and reconciliation can unfortunately feel rote.
Aside from this corporate prayer of confession, we have other moments we come to God in prayer. Some of us have time we set aside for prayer with God – those first waking moments of the morning, the last sleepy beats of the evening. Maybe when driving to work or while cooking dinner. For others of us, those moments that inspire us to confession, when we want to draw extra close to God are more impromptu – that extra bumpy plane ride, perhaps; the big project coming up; waiting for test results.
Lent has traditionally been about this reconciliation, coming to God, coming clean, in order that we might be prepared (as we ever can be) for the glory of the Resurrection. While some of us may be able to prepare without the reminder, without time set apart, others of us find time set aside, time made sacred, helpful… needed.
Part of the Lenten season is practices which cue us in, so that we can’t forget what it is we are supposed to be doing. Practices which remind us who it is we should turn to, who it is truly fills us with the best food. While we Presbyterians aren’t known for our observances of Lent – I’ve heard “um, oh yeah, it’s Lent isn’t it” from several wonderful Presbyterian lips – observing Lent is a part of our heritage. Perhaps one of the best known of these practices, disciplines as they are called (and they do take discipline), is giving things up for Lent.
How many of you have ever given something up? How many of you have ever tried and not been as successful as you’d like? Discipline. During Lent, Christians traditionally fast from things – be those things goods, pleasures, vices.
Like Jesus in the desert, we may fast from material objects (such as bread), or if we’re really ambitious, perhaps we’ll fast from power or maybe proving our authority over others – all things Jesus resisted in his 40 days and nights.
Why do we fast from things? Some think fasting has to do with suffering – I can’t have chocolate, I suffer… oh, hey, Jesus suffered for me. I should be thankful and repenting or something. Or maybe fasting is about endurance, proving you love God and want right relationship by holding out. That’s not exactly it either.
Listen to the beautiful words of Isaiah; echoing the calls of street sellers of the day, the prophets says: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
This is what we are called to – rich food, good food – not fasting to suffer or endure. The fasting going on, the giving up, it’s about something richer than that. Christ fasted after he heard his call in a powerful way, in the waters of baptism. From this moment on, fasting became connected with baptism, with this welcome into the community of faith, with this beginning of the journey.
Saul, soon to be Paul, finds himself following Jesus’ footsteps after his conversion on the road to Damascus. For three days he was without sight and neither ate nor drank. The believer Ananias arrives and lays hands on Saul, restoring his sight. Only then is he baptized, and only then does he take food. After this time of fasting – from food and from sight – Saul was ready to begin his journey with and for Christ.
The benefit of fasting before such a big event in a follower’s life was appreciated by the early church. The Didache, an early Christian text recommended a two-day fast prior to baptism. Fasting before baptism shifted into fasting to prepare for another momentous event in the Christians. Beginning in the 2nd century, believers observed a two-day fast prior to Easter (what would later be called Good Friday and Holy Saturday). Somewhere around the 4th century, the Lenten fast evolved, moved from the two days and just those to be baptized, to 40 days and to the whole church. Fasting also became a common practice around other times of the year, and almost universally Christians gave up food or drink before receiving communion.
This fasting, this giving something up, is about preparation. Preparation for ministry, for the journey of faith, for the cross and empty tomb. Preparation for Christ – for the freedom and the call found within him, for the bounty, the feast he sets before us, for the one cup, one bread. We prepare for this feast when we practice the discipline of fasting, from food or other things. And we need to prepare. We need to prepare because we get so easily distracted from the meal set before us.
You’re out at the grocery store, maybe picking up a gallon of milk on your way home, and you know that waiting for you at home is a wonderful meal, tasty AND nutritious. Standing in the check out line, gallon of milk in hand, you glance over to your right and see all the candy options the grocery store has so conveniently laid out before you. Your stomach growls, your eyes light up, and before you know it, you’ve added some Reese’s Cups to your order. Sure, you’ve got a good dinner waiting for you at home – but this is here, and now, and before you know it, you’ve ruined your dinner just like your mother always warned you about.
This is what Paul was speaking to in his letter to the Corinthians – well, not the Reese’s or your mother part. Paul understands that all over God’s world and God’s time, God’s people were feeding on Christ’s word, grace, mercy, and love. He writes of when the Israelites were given manna and water from a rock (who he identifies as Christ) in the desert. This real food the Israelites were provided by God was enough to sustain them. Though this food was from God, though they were feasting on gifts from heaven, the people complained, they longed for other food. They looked at something that wasn’t what would truly fill them up, wasn’t what their inner most parts longed for, and craved. As Paul identifies, this food isn’t just about physical nourishment – this real food is also spiritual food.
The Israelites craved other food, craved evil, craved that which was not from God, that which was not God. When the Israelites sat down and ate, they were eating the food of idols. When the Israelites craved meat, the food of Egypt, the food of slavery, food of death, they were rejecting the food of the wilderness, the food of freedom, of life, of God. They were craving more than God, other than God.
Paul lists example after example of when the people turned to that which was other than God, longed for idols. So Paul warns us to learn a lesson from the Israelites, a lesson God has laid out for us: flee from worship of idols.
That’s what Lenten practices are about: fleeing from worship of idols, fleeing from that food which does not satisfy, fleeing and coming to the one who fills us with more than we could imagine. We fast to remind us where and what our best food is, how we are nourished.
Even though we may know a wonderful meal is waiting for us – this word, grace, mercy, love, we struggle to resist the meat of idols – they look as good as those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. So we fast from that which is worldly, our worldly weakness so we may feast with Christ, on our heavenly strength.
We fast in order that we may feast. In this season of Lent, that’s what we are called to do. Our preparation for the GOOD NEWS is not fasting – it’s feasting! Feasting on the glory of Christ, eating at the table he has prepared. We are called to focus on our Lord, to incline our ear, to come and listen, and to do whatever we need to do to answer this call, to come buy milk and wine without money or price.
You don’t have to fast to feast. Some of us may find fasting from something – sugar, gossip, tv – whatever it may be – helps us to cleanse ourselves of all that which is not God, to repent and reconcile with our Savior. For others, giving something up – that may not be the preparation you need, especially if you find yourself saying “I’m giving up broccoli for Lent,” or my favorite, “I’m giving up giving up things.” Some many options – you don’t have to give something up, you can take something on. You can take on rising in the morning a few minutes early to offer prayer – there’s this wonderful prayer where as you wake up, you thank God for each part of you, your head, heart, limbs, your breath. You might try to read more of the Bible, perhaps follow the daily lectionary (how many of you knew we had a daily lectionary) which you can find on the PCUSA website. You might try allowing yourself to stop and look at the mountains as you drive from one place to another, instead of hurrying to your destination. Stop, look, and let your eyes feast on God’s glory made manifest, your heart filling with all richness.
What are you doing to prepare yourself for Lent? Good Friday? Easter? How are you prepared to live as an Easter people, a resurrection people? How are you feasting on God? We have this season, a season of reflection, repentance, reconciliation – don’t let it go by uncelebrated, don’t let yourself go hungry. Come, come to the waters, come, come to the table. Come and fill yourself with God’s glory, God’s love. Come and feast.