By Will Vucurevich
Historically, the Christian Church has used fasting and prayer as means of preparation during the Lenten season to focus on the coming celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Early catechumens studied and practiced spiritual disciplines as they readied themselves for their baptism during this time. Biblically, this tradition stems from Jesus’ 40 day fast in wilderness in preparation for his public ministry, as well as both Moses’ and Elijah’s 40 day fasts at Mt. Sinai/Horeb. Since then, the Church has had a long historical tradition of abstaining from some of God’s good gifts in order to reassign that dedicated time to prayer during Lent. And I would like to suggest an additional reason to participate in fasting and prayer together as a local body during Lent. Fasting and prayer are great opportunities to dramatize the gospel in the midst of our cultural context.
In a culture that bombards us with varied versions of the same message—consume your way to happiness—choosing to fast is profoundly countercultural. We are a super-sized society of excess, as any walk down the Las Vegas strip or dinner at Golden Corral will attest to. Advertisements and commercials promise us daily that their product will help us reach our truest potential, most sought after desire, or fullest identity. We deserve more than what we have, and we should do what we can in order to attain what we want.
To stand in the face of this cultural idolatry and declare, “I will do without,” is a beautiful reenactment of the cruciform shape of the life of Jesus. We serve a Lord who “emptied himself” and took on “the form of a servant” in order to lavish the riches of God’s love upon his people. This is the posture we are called to imitate. We see a similar call throughout the Gospels as Jesus reminds those who would follow him to take up their cross. The call to a Christian life is not a call to comfort, but rather to costly sacrifice. The early church grew rapidly as they bore witness to the radical and life-changing transformation that comes through meeting Jesus. Their lives embodied values that stood in stark contrast to those of the empire. I wonder if we would be willing to sacrifice, to go without for a time, in order to steward our lives as a prophetic witness against the idols of our context?
In addition to fasting, the early church used Lent as a time of focused prayer. We at Redemption Tempe have also been praying. We have been praying for reconciliation between people and God as well as between people and people. As a staff, we have been echoing your prayers of reconciliation in the midst of shattered families, that loved ones would come to know Jesus, and that wayward friends and family would return to the Father in repentance. We have also been praying that God would move in the city of Tempe. We have been praying for the restoration of the areas of our community where the brokenness of sin is felt profoundly. We have been asking God to bless the faithful distributors of his common grace throughout our community. We have also been asking God to show us if there are any new ways he may be calling us to serve our neighbors in the city of Tempe.
Just as fasting can be a prophetic witness in our context, we believe that prayer can be as well. We know that hard work and DIY videos alone cannot bring the lasting change we so desire to see in the hearts of our loved ones and throughout our city. We know well the layers of complexity and compounded injustice that can be seen as sin are manifest as systemic brokenness or a broken heart. Yes, programs help, social service agencies are greatly valuable, and strategies and campaigns make a difference. However, we believe as Michael Goheen states so beautifully, that “The kingdom comes, as the Spirit works, in response to God’s people praying.” Prayer is not something in which we passively participate. Prayer is how we actively engage in the revolutionary act of seeing God’s “kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.
We invite you to join with us during this season of Lent, standing with the brothers and sisters who have paved the way for us throughout church history. Join with us in fasting and prayer. Join with us to speak a more beautiful word than what our culture shouts, to show a more life-giving lifestyle rather than always desperately seeking for more. Join us as we prepare to celebrate the life-changing reality that he is risen, risen indeed!