Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14–15)
Fasting was part of the spiritual life for the people of God in both the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. It is a time of self-denial, usually from food or drink, that helps focus the spiritual life of the believer. In other words, the point isn’t to deny ourselves something for no reason but rather to do so in order to draw us closer to God, to petition him in prayer, and to more fully realize his will for our lives.
The days leading up to Easter, the period known as Lent, have a long history of being days of fasting for the Church. It is a time of focusing ourselves on the sacrifice of Christ and a time of preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. If you are not using this book during Lent, however, fasting is still an excellent way to help us focus more clearly on the cross and the work of Christ.
During our time journeying together under the shadow of the cross, I suggest that you participate in fasting in the following ways (if all three seem overwhelming just do number three):
- JOURNEY FAST: Pick something that gives you joy that you do almost every day and that you would be able to give up for the remainder of our journey together through Lent. This could be a beverage of choice, watching television, a social media platform, or something else—something you will miss. For the next 44 days, instead of finding joy in participating in that activity, try to locate that same joy in spending time in prayer and contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
- FRIDAY FAST: Every Friday, unless there is a medical reason to not do so, consider abstaining from eating either lunch or dinner. Spend this time in prayer and contemplation of the work of Christ on the cross and in your life.
- ACTION ITEM: Beginning next Friday, there will be a suggested action item for that day or the upcoming week. It will be an action that requires some form of sacrifice. This may be participating in a form of alms giving or engaging in a spiritual discipline. Use these acts of personal sacrifice as a means to remember and participate in the suffering of Christ.
You might be asking: “Is fasting really necessary? Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast, so why should we?”
In today’s reading, Jesus suggests that a day will come when his disciples will indeed fast: when they wait for the return of the bridegroom – when they are laboring under the shadow of the cross and waiting for the time of fulfillment. I would suggest that the time of laboring and waiting has come. May we fast together under the shadow of the cross as we long for the return of our bridegroom.
Heavenly Father, we fast in preparation of the feast of the return of the bridegroom. Turn our weeping into dancing! In the name of the returning bridegroom, Jesus, our Lord, amen.