Warning! Fasting is compared to the Sacraments

With the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful, Lent has begun.  And with Lent comes all sorts of thoughts and questions about fasting. It seems to be the big question of Lent. Why fast? How do I fast?  What does fasting mean?  The questions are truly endless.  And I will confess that I am an infant when it comes to fasting.  I was never instructed on it.  But maybe I was.  Maybe I have been instructed on it by my Lord through His Word and Church.  Maybe I didn’t have ears to hear.

Lent is known in the East (Eastern Orthodox) as the Great Fast and they have oodles of rules about it, as does Rome.  But we know fasting doesn’t work, right?  I mean, we know fasting is important. Our Lord said “when you fast” not “IF you fast”.  The fathers, the prophets, the apostles, even Jesus Himself fasted.  It’s important.  Or anyway, it was for them.  But we know better, right?  I mean, fasting is so earthy and not heavenly.  It’s not a sacrament.  What is gained by fasting?  Don’t those people who fast think that by doing so they earn some sort of favor from God, whether salvation or the answer to prayer or something?  Instead of fasting shouldn’t we read our Bible or pray more?

As I said, the questions are endless.  But let’s look at fasting.  Specifically the three great fasts in Scripture.  Moses fasted (twice) 40 days and 40 nights when he went up the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) to receive God’s word and again (40 days and 40 nights) when he went up the Mountain of God after the Golden Calf debacle (Deut. 9:9, 18).  So Moses fasted to receive God’s Word and to remain faithful when the people had been unfaithful, even to intercede.

Elijah (the second great fast of Scripture) also fasted 40 days and 40 nights.  Having killed the prophets of Ba’al, Elijah fled from Jezabel, finally despairing of life and asking God for permission to die. God denied his request and sent Him, of all places, to Mt. Horeb where Moses had fasted when he received God’s word and when Israel was rebuked.  God gave Elijah food to eat and on that food Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights, making the journey to Mt. Horeb where he was both rebuked and received by God (1 Kings 19:1-18).

Now we come to Jesus.   Our Lord fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.  Mt. Horeb is in the wilderness of Sinai.  Connection? Probably.   Moses and Elijah both fasted at times when God was receiving and rebuking them personally (Elijah) or when the people of God were rebuked (Moses).  (Though even with Elijah the people are involved, ie, the 7,000.)  So too, Jesus.  The people (everyone) were rebuked.  All have sinned.  Jesus fasts.  But Jesus is received by God.  Just before He is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, the Father gives witness saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus is received by God; Jesus fasts.  Receiving and rebuking, rebuking and receiving. Fasting.

I don’t have the answers to our quandary about fasting and I continue to pray and seek, but I think maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.  Or at least we are not satisfied with the answer we seem to receive from the Scriptures.  The Great Fasts of the Scriptures (Moses, Elijah, and Jesus) came at particularly poignant times of reception and rebuke by God.  Is that not where we are now? Does God not preach both the Law and the Gospel today?  If Jesus said to Saul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” when Saul was “actually” persecuting Christians, then maybe our Lord still fasts in His Body, the Church.  Maybe our Lord fasts because we are received and rebuked by God.  Maybe the Great Fast (Lent) is not so optional as we thought.

I said above that fasting is not a sacrament.  Perhaps.  But is it sacramental?  Didn’t Moses fast and see God and avert His wrath and was received by and sustained by God?  Didn’t Elijah fast and see God and was comforted and instructed?  Didn’t Jesus fast and have angels minister to Him?  We see a bit of this idea when people fast on Sunday morning, eating and drinking nothing (drinking nothing?) before the Lord’s Supper.  But then, maybe most of us hold this fast because we’re too lazy to fix breakfast for ourselves.  Maybe fasting is more than a simple reminder that man does not live by bread alone, just like the Lord’s Supper is more than a reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Maybe fasting is participating in the Lord who even now fasts, not drinking from the final cup until He does so with us in His kingdom.

Just a thought.


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