"No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others.
So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great." — St. John Chrysostom (c. 348-407 CE)
Here we are on our Lenten journey once again. Tomorrow, March 2nd, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday with a drive thru imposition of ashes as we did last year – with our siblings from New Harvest Presbyterian Church. Ashes are an outward sign of our own mortality, reminding us that we are dust, formed of the dust of the earth, and to dust we shall return.
I think we are all feeling a bit more mortal than we did last month at this time. It was jarring to lose Charles Carnell, JoAnn Reaves and Janice Kirvan in a span of 5 days. It has been difficult, and we have had an opportunity as a community to grieve these losses. And there will be more. We do not know the hour or the day, but we do know that none of us gets out of this life alive. Despite our best efforts, humanity has not found a way to ensure bodily immortality.
But as you have heard me say, time and time again, that as Paul wrote to the church in Rome (6:5) that because we have been united with Christ through baptism into a death like his, we will surely be united with him in a resurrection like his. And so, we walk this Lenten journey, aware of our mortality, but also in the sure knowledge of our spiritual immortality. Death is not the end of the story.
We are born and we will die. And the amount of time we have here is uncertain. But we are clear on this. God has given us one job to do, one directive in this life: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the prime directive for Christians (bonus if you get the Star Trek reference there!)
In Isaiah 58 the prophet reminds the people that a fast acceptable to God is one that ensures that injustice is ended, the oppressed go free, the hungry are fed, and the naked are clothed. A fast that is other centered more than self-centered. This is what St. John Chrysostom is talking about in the quote above. Fasting does you no good if it is not a benefit to those in need.
We have one job to do – love, as God has loved us. This is how others will know that we are Christ’s disciples. By our love. Always by our love.
If giving something up for Lent makes you more loving, do it. If taking on a spiritual practice makes you more loving, go for it. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how what you do impacts your journey of faith, over the next 46 days (40 fast days and 6 Sunday feast days). It’s about how it affects your ability to love your neighbor.
So, you can fast or not, pick up a practice or not. I hope you will commit to using a daily devotion – one of your choosing or A Time to Grow or the weekly devotions that will be sent out from the office that come from Presbyterian Outlook. Lent is a period of preparation, like Advent, in that we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross, remembering our mortality, so that on Easter morning we are ready for the joy that comes from celebrating again our immortality – the new life that we experience in Christ.
“Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death,
so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
we too can walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)