I was struck by the language of the opening prayer prescribed for Ash Wednesday. It reads, in part, “Grant…that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint….” “Battle.” “Armed.” “Weapons.” Really? As one who believes that words do matter, I’m not sure this is the best way to engender a spirit of peace, especially in our troubled times. Someone has said, “Truth is what you get when truth is what you speak.” (Melissa Etheridge) The same could be said about love and peace. Peace is what you get when peace is what you speak.
Every day we are bombarded with stories and images of war and violence. Guns, bombs, drones, swords, and torture. All these – instruments of war – used to exert power and control. We pray for an end to violence. It begins with the setting down of these instruments so that our hands are empty to take up instruments of peace. While empty hands can cause much harm, they can also embrace, created, nurture, heal, liberate, share, and empower. Lent invites us to give up so that we have the capacity to embrace something new.
Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.
And here, we are invited to consider the third pillar of Lent, fasting. Fasting challenges us to give up in other ways, realizing that we take in more than enough to sustain us. This can be, but is not necessarily limited to food. There are many things from which we can fast – irreverence, exploitation, and control, for example. Sr. Sue Scharfenberger gave us some options several years ago that bear repeating: We can choose to fast from having the last word, or fast from holding on to a past hurt or memory. We can fast from always being right so that we can hear and hold sacred the truth of another.
Fasting – how, when, where, and from what – involves choices. When we face temptation, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, we also face choices. While we cannot avoid them altogether, we can choose to walk away from them. In that choice, we decide who we want to be and how we want to live. Jesus embraced fully the human reality of struggling to be faithful. He faced temptations and he made a choice – to go to Galilee and proclaim the gospel of God. “No doubt about it,” Joan Chittister writes, “Fasting surely has something to do with peacemaking. It puts us in touch with the Creator. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It puts us in touch with the prophet Jesus who, fasting in the desert, gave up power, wealth, comfort, and self-centeredness, and teaches us to do the same. It puts us in touch with the rest of the creation whose needs now cry out in our own.”
The Litany of Nov-Violence concludes:
God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.
The journey of Lent, indeed “our discipleship journey, is a constant call to move back onto the path that Jesus marked for us – a path that calls us to be instruments of God’s peace,” (Dave Robinson)
to sow love where there is hatred pardon where there is injury
faith where there is doubt
hope where there is despair
light where there is darkness
joy where there is sadness. (Prayer of St. Francis)
The pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, states that “being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time…. we are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job – praying, taking care of each other, reading the bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.” (Rev. Ibrahim Nsier)
Yep, Lent is here again! Amidst the challenges and expectations, let us walk this journey together, seeking peace within our own hearts that we might bring peace to our homes, to our city, to our country, and to our world. Amen!
— Joan C. Frisz