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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

I am scheduling this post since I cannot participate in the Ash Wednesday fast. As I cannot do the fast, because of nursing a baby, I will be having a media fast.

If you are looking for a traditional Ash Wednesday menu, here it is: Water. It is a 24 hour strict fast. The rules have been relaxed in the west (to the point of absurdity), but it is still a strict fast. If you cannot fast, try to fast from one or two meals and eat less. If that is not possible for some reason, this should be a meat abstinence day. Read this for a pretty good summary of our feelings about the relaxation of the fasting requirements in the west. For more encouragement on the Lenten fast, please read this from an Orthodox perspective.

We were talking this week about how the entire Church year is tied together. What happens in one part is the beginning of another part, and that part is the fulfillment of another. The ashes tonight will come from the burning of the palms from last year's Palm Sunday services.

Lent is a penitential season. We make sacrifices in our diet, of our time and of our finances. Our dietary changes allow for more money to give to alms, one third of the trinity of the Christian fast. I say this each year: To fast as a Christian is to fast, pray and to give alms. This is the definition of a fast. We do not simply abstain from eating and hope that by doing so we receive grace or earn favor. The fast is a daily reminder of our obligation to pray and care for the poor as well as using physical discipline to lead us to spiritual discipline. I still remember the teaching that all sin is an appetite indulged, so the fast is a way to teach us not to indulge our appetites. Even during the abstinent days of Lent, rather than the full fasts, we are to eat less than we normally would. We are to leave the table a little hungry. I read this somewhere, and I can't remember the source to give credit:

"By abstaining from meat (and dairy), we allow both creation (the animals) to rest from milking or laying and allow nature to "rebuild". But more importantly, we embrace the simplicity of eating plainer foods so that we can focus more of our time on Christ. We also allow ourselves to be a little more hungry than normal in order to remember that God is the only one who can truly fill our deepest hunger!"

Although we are not Orthodox, I will borrow from their tradition for the eve of Clean Monday: Friends and family, I humbly ask your forgiveness if I have offended you in any way. I bow down to the ground in my heart before each one of you and ask for your forgiveness. I ask forgiveness for having offended, scandalized and sinned against anyone, whether by my words, actions, or thoughts. Forgive me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I wish you a holy Lent.

"Yet even now," says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.

Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, "Spare thy people, O LORD, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'" Joel 2:12-17

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