Lent 2018 - Holy Saturday

This is the last entry for the Lenten diary my friend and fellow pastor wrote about his fasting experiences during Lent. I appreciate all of the feedback given during these last seven weeks and have passed on all of the encouragement to my friend. Thanks for reading.

-Matthew


Saturday, March 31, 2018                     Holy Saturday

 

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  -Book of Common Prayer

 

Tonight at the Great Vigil, sometime around sunset which marks the end of the day, the Gospel of St. Mark chapter 16:1-8 will be read and will be the first of many proclamations of the empty tomb and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While I won’t eat immediately after the gospel reading, that moment marks the end of my period of fasting and transitions into not only the greatest day of the year, but also a period of feasting.  We are moving into celebration soon.  Easter is the best.

 

I thought I’d just reflect briefly on some things I’ve really appreciated this year during my fasting.  I have had some good family time, especially with the kids, teaching them not only about fasting – which is an annual occurrence for them to witness now – but also encouraging my older ones as they give up things for Lent, explaining to my youngest what my prayer book is and having him sit on my lap during a few prayer times.  We have especially honed in on the story of Jesus the past few weeks during bedtime and we will read from “The Jesus Storybook Bible” which is outstanding.  We tell the story.  And then we tell it again.  You see, I want this story of Jesus and his love and victory to be THE story that defines who they are.  I love their questions and comments.  My youngest telling me his favorite picture in the Jesus Storybook Bible is the one with Jesus on the cross.  My others asking me questions about Judas and why he did what he did.  You can do these sorts of things without fasting, of course.  We do faith focused things around bedtime all year round.  What fasting does for me, however, is to set this time apart.  This time is special.  I’ve appreciated my prayer times.  I am able to be consistent in prayer during my fasts in a way I am not able to in other times of the year.  I will attempt to continue some sort of continual prayer throughout the day, but fasting adds a discipline that I so badly need.  The result of this is that currently I feel at peace with God even in the midst of the busiest time of the year for me at work.  In fact, I feel an abiding joy and great anticipation for Easter.  Another thing I am appreciating right now is the journey I’ve made with my back pain.  It has hampered my ability to work.  I’ve had to lay down in my office, or walk around, or stretch out.  I’ve had several doctor’s appointments where they don’t seem to be able to keep my back aligned properly.  Nonetheless, I continue to think of how God’s grace is sufficient for me and I am less angry about my back pain now than I was before.  I am not “there” yet – as in, I have not arrived.  But I do think I have grown not in spite of the pain, but probably because of it.  That is a surprise. 

 

This will most likely be my last entry for this journal.  I do hope it helps you to consider the ancient Christian discipline of fasting and the work the Holy Spirit does through it.  But I hope above all that the joy and power of Christ’s Resurrection envelopes and overwhelms you, and that the transforming and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit fills you to full and over flowing and that the richest blessings of God the Father are yours now and forever. 

Have a blessed Easter, for He is Risen!

Lent 2018 - Good Friday

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Friday, March 30, 2018                         Good Friday

           

“Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me.”  -Lamentations 1:12

 

This verse is in the beginning of the prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer for the Lenten season and it seemed especially fitting today on Good Friday.  Today will be a somber and contemplative day as well as a busy one.  I have many preparations to do for tonight’s worship service, as well as work to do on my Easter Sermon – which is a weird head space to be in as I contemplate the death of Christ to think on preaching the victory of Christ.  I will take some prayer time today to really contemplate the cross of Christ. 

 

It is strange to think my fasting is coming to an end.  I will break my fast after the Holy Saturday Evening Service, so I have just over a day left.  In some ways, it has really gone by quickly.  I am used to not eating.  As my body ages, I think it has gotten easier physically, which is strange.  Nonetheless, the spiritual aspects are still so helpful and also vary from year to year in what God does.  Last year I felt like a lot of stuff was stripped away.  This year I began with an increasing awareness of my own sin, but I seem to have transitioned into more contemplation and thanksgiving.  For example, last night I had a moment where I was kind of just overcome with God’s grace during a part of our worship where we practiced foot washing.  A parishioner washed my feet and then prayed for me.  Being the person who usually prays for others, when parishioners do this in a heartfelt manner, it is always touching.  There was a sweet spirit in that place, and I was at one of several foot washing stations where folks from our church were practicing what Jesus did.  The Holy Spirit was present and I was just incredibly moved by the whole thing.  I am thankful. 

 

I will be very thankful Sunday.  We are not there yet, however.  Today we remember the extent to which God the Son so loved us.  Then on Sunday we can celebrate how that love triumphed over all.  Even death itself.

 

Lent 2018 - Maundy Thursday

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Thursday, March 29, 2018                    Maundy Thursday

            It’s just a few minutes before our Maundy Thursday service, but I wanted to take a moment to briefly journal.  We are now entering into an intense couple of days for me personally and as a church as we celebrate the Tridiuum and Resurrection Sunday.  This is the worship highpoint of our year. 

            I just finished a prayer time.  I learned right before my prayer time of the shooting of the young man in Sacramento who was in his grandparent’s backyard with only his cell phone.  I don’t know what all will come out in this story.  I like to wait a bit just to get as clear a picture as I can.  But I do know my heart was full of sorrow during prayer this evening as I was mindful of a mother who lost a son and a family who lost a loved one.  I’m also sad about the societal brokenness that is a part of the bigger picture of this young man’s shooting, however complex it is.  I’m just sad.  This is a journal about my fasting, not my venturing into racial and political areas, but I thought I ought to note this past prayer time.  I think it is just another reminder of the brokenness of this world and the hurts that are all around us.  Someday Jesus will return.  The Resurrection gives me hope of this.  Someday there will be no more shootings.  Someday no more racial tensions.  Someday all our wounds shall be bound up and our hearts will be one in praise to the one on the throne who makes all things new.  Until that glorious day, we gather and remember Jesus’ commandment to us – “love one another as I have loved you.”

Have a blessed Maundy Thursday.

Lent 2018 - Wednesday of Holy Week

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Wednesday, March 28, 2018                Wednesday of Holy Week

            We are getting towards the end of Lent. I find myself thinking more and more about the feast of Easter and how to do that.  My wife and I talked a bit about that last night as far as how to do this well and have our kids take it in like they are supposed to.  A lot of it is telling the story, I think.  That’s a lot of what Holy Week is about.  We will have services on Thursday (footwashing), Friday, Saturday Easter Vigil, and of course Sunday.  It’s a lot of stuff and it takes a lot of people to do it, and I find myself very thankful.  I am thankful for all the work of staff and volunteers to make it work.  I am thankful for the church for participating.  And most of all, I am thankful to Christ for dying and rising again for us.  This week is so full, yet so amazing. 

            It’s funny, I had a few things removed from my plate this week.  I had a project I was doing (I don’t want to be too specific in order to maintain some anonymity), but it has been several weeks and many hours in the making, and on Monday I found out the whole thing was ruined.  A lot of wasted time – apart from the lesson learned.  Along with that I am watching sports less, and some of my other hobbies are on a down time, so I began to see the whole thing as God just clearing things away so I can focus where I need to this week.  My back is still an issue – I do wish back pain was something cleared away – but I guess that’s not the way it works.  It’s about focusing on Christ and the sufficiency of Jesus for me.  Is Jesus enough?  That’s kind of the whole thing with going without food.  I’m 43 days into this journey, and I think that means I’ve eaten 6 days of the last 43.  I’m hungry.  The medication I was just put on for my back is not good on an empty stomach, so I’m taking half doses.  I get really tired much earlier than normal.  But, I’m praying 4 times a day.  I’m confessing my sins to God in the morning and evening.  I’m reading scripture.  I’m contemplating the resurrection.  And, I really am full of thanks for many things. 

            I guess one thing I’d like to emphasize for anyone who is reading this and has been following along (God bless you).  I’m not a spiritual giant.  I struggle with prayer.  Being grateful is not a natural thing for me.  I’m more cynical and pessimistic.  But… but fasting does stuff to me.  I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about it.  God really works in this in my life.  It has impacted me in ways I have not expected.  And I am thankful.  It really is about the power of God working in me to transform me.  I am not doing this stuff by my own strength.  I am an emotional eater and have less impulse control than I’d like, and yet here I am fasting.  Also, while I tend to be pessimistic, there is one thing that gives me real hope.  Hope like nothing else I’ve experienced.  I really do have hope because of Easter.  I don’t trust this life.  There is too much that is unfair.  Death happens.  Illness happens.  Good people get bad diseases.  Innocent people have horrible things happen to them.  But then along comes the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to show us that death has been defeated and evil undone.  It is possible that the Lord will truly, one day, give back the years the locusts have eaten.  Blessed are those who mourn, because someday they will receive back their dead through the resurrection.  The Resurrection of Jesus shows me that no matter how bad evil is, no matter how much it steals, no matter how much it hurts, the power of the Living God can undo all of that in but a moment and even transform the scars left behind into signs of glory.  I absolutely cannot think of anything more hopeful than that.  So I am thankful for fasting, because it helps me be more focused on that event that is of most importance to my life instead of on all the distractions I face. 

 

Prayer for Wednesday from Book of Common Prayer

            Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Holy Week - 2018

Victim Divine, Thy grace we claim,
While thus Thy precious death we show:
Once offered up a spotless Lamb,
In Thy great temple here below,
Thou didst for all mankind atone,
And standest now before the throne.

Thou standest in the holy place,
As now for guilty sinners slain;
The blood of sprinkling speaks, and prays,
All prevalent for helpless man;
Thy blood is still our ransom found,
And speaks salvation all around.

The smoke of Thy atonement here
Darkened the sun, and rent the veil,
Made the new way to Heaven appear,
And showed the great Invisible;
Well pleased in Thee, our God looked down,
And calls His rebels to a crown.

He still respects Thy sacrifice;
Its savor sweet doth always please:
The offering smokes through earth and skies,
Diffusing life, and joy, and peace;
To these, Thy lower courts, it comes,
And fills them with divine perfumes.

We need not now go up to Heaven,
To bring thelong sought Savior down;
Thou art to all already given,
Thoudoste’en now Thy banquet crown:
To every faithful soul appear,
And show Thy real presence here!

-- Charles Wesley, 1745

Lent 2018 - Day 36

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Wednesday, March 21, 2018                          Day 36 of Lent

                  Physically things are beginning to take a toll on me.  I am tired more often.  I have some hunger pangs now.  My back is not doing well today, so I’m in pain with that.  And I’m cold.  My body temperature drops or something, so I have to dress warmer and use a space heater at times.  But the end is in sight.  This Sunday is Palm Sunday and then we are into Holy Week.  We do quite a few worship services for Holy Week – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I’ll have a few messages to prepare and lots of logistics to figure out as well as a lot of volunteers to have in place.  On top of that, I am beginning to feel a bit of pressure.  Easter is my favorite day of the year and is such a joyous celebration that I want to properly convey that in my message on Easter morning so that anyone present, whether long time attender or visitor knows that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, trampling death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life and that it is a really big deal with life changing implications.  One of the effects of this Lenten preparation I am finding, is it adds a very physical and visceral quality to the rejoicing on Easter morning.  It’s more than just eating again, too.  The ability to eat and feast is a manifestation of the reality that death’s power has been broken and in the Resurrected Christ we receive life.  I feel excited and emotional even typing this stuff because it awakens in me such joy and hope that it really is hard to contain. 

 

                  It’s early, but some words I have been reading today:

                 

“Let none fear death, for the death of the Saviour has set us free. 

                  Christ is risen and the demons have fallen.

                  Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.”                        

-St. John Chrysostom

 

                  “He whom none may touch is seized;

                  He who looses Adam from the curse is bound.

                  He who tries the hearts and inner thoughts of man is unjustly brought to trial;

                  He who closed the abyss is shut in prison.

                  He before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling stands before Pilate;

                  The Creator is struck by the hand of his creature.

                  He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross;

                  The Destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb.

                  O thou who dost endure all these things in thy tender love,

                  Who hast saved all men from the curse,

                  O longsuffering Lord, glory to thee.”                           

-Orthodox prayers on Vespers of Great Friday

 

“(Easter) is the explosion of cosmic joy at the triumph of life, after the overwhelming sorrow over death – death which even the Lord of life had to suffer when he became man.”     

-Fr. Dumitru Staniloae

 

“All ye that seek the Lord who died, Your God for sinners crucified,

Prevent the earliest dawn and come, to worship at his sacred Tomb.

 

Bring the sweet spices of your sighs, your contrite hearts, and streaming eyes,

Your sad complaints, and humble fears; Come and embalm him with your tears.

 

While thus ye love your souls t’employ, Your sorrow shall be turned to joy

Now, now let all your grief be over! Believe and ye shall weep no more.

 

An earthquake hath the cavern shook, and burst the door and rent the rock,

The Lord hath sent his angel down, and he hath rolled away the stone.

 

As snow behold his garment white, his countenance as lightning bright;

He sits and waves a flaming sword, and waits upon the rising Lord.

 

The third auspicious morn is come and calls your Saviour from the tomb,

The bands of death are torn away, the yawning tomb gives back its prey.

 

Could neither seal nor stone secure, nor men, nor devils make it sure?

The seal is broke, the stone cast by, and all the powers of darkness fly

 

The body breathes and lifts his head, the keepers sink and fall as dead;

The dead restored to life appear, the living quake, and die for fear.

 

The Lord of life is risen indeed, to death delivered in your stead;

His rife proclaims your sins forgiven, and shews the living way to heaven.

God tell the followers of your Lord, their Jesus is to life restored;]

He lives that they his life may find; He lives, to quicken all mankind.

-Charles Wesley

 

Lent 2018 - Day 31

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Friday, March 16, 2018             Day 31 of Lent

            Tuesday I woke up feeling gross.  This is kind of what happens when my body adjusts to just drinking water, juice and some chocolate milk and then on Mondays I eat lots of stuff.  It’s almost like a hangover.  I feel sluggish and my stomach felt gross.  The strange thing then is fasting on Tuesdays is a welcome thing.  By the time I get to Thursday, however, I am ready to eat again.  My hunger is not too bad though.  I am a bit more tired now, and cold, but besides that, my body is holding up well.  My back is still an issue.  That does force me to pray more and think more about how to rely upon God.  It’s still a struggle. 

            The prayer for this week is

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

            One of the readings this week from the two-year lectionary was Mark 8:1-10, the feeding of the 4,000.  In verse two, Jesus says, “I have compassion for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.”  This verse hit me in a very different way in the midst of a fast.  It’s not necessarily saying they were fasting during the three days.  Jesus just says that they did not have anything to eat.  But in the next verse, he says that if he sends them away, they will faint on the way because of hunger, so whatever the specifics of the situation, these crowds had forgone their immediate needs in terms of food for the sake of listening to Jesus.  Am I doing that?  Furthermore, am I willing to lay everything down just in order to listen to Jesus?  There was just something challenging for me in that little story that wasn’t before.  I think we focus on the miracle, and that makes sense, but the miracle came to a people Jesus had compassion on and a people that were being taught by Jesus.  They sacrificed in order to be taught.  Of course, all of that leads to Jesus miraculously giving them bread, which then led my mind to the prayer for the week.  Jesus Christ is the true bread – “ever more give us this bread that he may live in us and we in him”  May that be my prayer.

            So I guess, whether it is my back or my fasting – whatever it is, Jesus is to be the real bread that feeds my soul.  That is what I want, but I find myself hesitant to make sacrifice all too often.  I think one of the real benefits of fasting like this is the intentionality of sacrifice for the sake of listening to Jesus.  I am not convinced that I would just do this naturally.  I need the rhythms and traditions of the church to sweep me into this narrative and this way of life, and I am often surprised by what this discipline in one area of my life brings out in others.  On that note, I remember the first time I did this sort of fast throughout Lent.  I went into it thinking a lot about the physical challenge and wondering how that would work out.  I was blown away by what happened spiritually and emotionally.  As I have continued this tradition, I am not as surprised by the fact that these other areas are addressed or exposed, but I am continually surprised by how fasting opens up areas in my life and soul that I was not expecting. 

Lent 2018 - Day 26

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Sunday, March 11, 2018                       Day 26 of Lent

            It’s late Sunday night, but I just wanted to add a few things about today.  Saturday and this morning I prayed a bit for the folks that would attend worship this morning.  I did this in part because of a story that Matthew told me about Billy Graham and how he would often be found prior to a crusade, on his face, weeping in prayer for people.  I know I need to pray for that sort of thing, but I don’t do it enough.  So I did. I was surprised at how easily it came.  I’ve prayed for the service before, but it often doesn’t feel like much… I don’t know.  Anyway, I do believe I did feel God’s presence as I prayed for folks who would be at worship.  This week’s message happened to be a pretty good salvation type message anyway, so I hoped.  Then today at worship I was surprised to see two people I’ve had some contact with recently that I hope to see come to faith or really commit themselves to Jesus.  I am not sure how it all went for them. I was not able to catch them before they left, but I am praying.