quod pro nobis traditum est

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ash Wednesday 2006

St. Matthew 6:16-21 Doing Good on Earth with Eyes Toward Heaven

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter is considered a feast day for it is a celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord. This evening, we hear the Lord speak words not of feast but of fast. Fasting was a practice that originated before the Lord's Incarnation as recorded in the New Testament. In the Old Testament God's people fasted when facing hardship. The prophets fasted in anticipation of the coming Messiah. Fasting was also a common practice in the New Testament, in the early church and throughout the church's history. We are reminded that our Lord Himself fasted. Fasting helped one to sense his or her weakness and helplessness before God. Believers have also fasted in preparation for receiving the Eucharist. By fasting they anticipated the feast of Christ's Body and Blood at the altar. In this way fasting is beneficial for it reminds us of our mortality before God and then we take on immortality or participate in the divine nature in the feast at the Sacrament of the Altar. During Lent we are called upon by the word of God to recognize our mortality and put to death sin and sinful desires and rather find our life in God's great mercy in Christ. In Him we are raised again to new life, as the cleansing water of Holy Baptism reminds us. So Lent is more than following certain rules of living. Rather Lent calls us to ponder Christ Himself, His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Fasting is but one freedom that is ours in Christ. It is a discipline to help us to forget ourselves and instead see Christ. So fasting anticipates the forgiveness, life and salvation in the Holy Supper as the fasting of Lent anticipates the feast of Jesus' victory over death at the empty tomb. In the Risen Lord there is forgiveness for sin, life for death and salvation for eternal punishment. So if there is a fast by the people of God during Lent or at any other time of the year this is only because we know that following the fast comes the feast of faith.

The Lord said, when you fast . . . So the question is not "if" but "when." And the problem is not fasting but fasting in order to be seen by others. Why? Because fasting is not meant to draw one to look at others or to look to others for their approval and praise, it is, rather, a means of drawing one to see our Lord Himself. The same is true for prayer and almsgiving, or giving to the church and helping the needy, which are also part of the church's worship. Jesus says, "When you do a charitable deed …[and] when you pray." With His words the Lord helps us to see what is most important about our life of faith and Who is the focus of our worship and praise. He further shows this in teaching His Church the priority of not building up our treasure here on earth where such treasure does not last. The true treasure is found in Christ Himself for through His suffering and death on the cross, His shedding of precious blood, we are cleansed and prepared to be received with Him into heavenly glory. As the Son has prepared our treasure in heaven by His merits so we come to know through Him the love of our heavenly Father and the life that is ours in the Holy Spirit.

Ash Wednesday reminds us particularly of our mortality but also of divine life given to us for the forgiveness of sins at the Holy Supper. God's people are then also called upon by God's word to "add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." The repentance of Ash Wednesday does not end this evening. Lent keeps us in the discipline of knowing the Lord and living in His love. His love leads us out of ourselves and instead toward Him and our neighbor in need. Then at Easter we will celebrate the Feast of our Lord's Resurrection. But we need not wait for Easter to taste of the feast. For His life is poured out even unto death and His risen Body and Blood are here at the altar for His baptized people even tonight. Lent reminds and teaches us of Christ's own discipline of suffering and death that the world may know and participate in His life and salvation. Christ is made known in His fasting and His cross and then at the eternal feast. As we enter into Lent may the Lord lead His people in His faithfulness from fast to feast and the rich treasure of His love and mercy.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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