Demystifying Lent Part Two: Lent and Creation

Written By: Rev. H. Ashley Hall, Ph.D.

During Lent, Christians are encouraged to fast; that is, to abstain from certain goods or
behaviors. It is worth examining why Christians fast and what our fasting says about our
understanding of creation. The New Testament demonstrates that early Christians embraced the
received tradition of fasting, often in association with prayer (see Matthew 6:17, Acts 14:23,
Second Corinthians 11:27). By the second century, Wednesdays and Fridays became standard
fasting days (even outside of the season of Lent) as a somber way to mark the betrayal and death
of Jesus (i.e., Spy Wednesday and Good Friday). Among early Christians, the mode of fasting
generally involved consuming just one meal later in the day and drinking only water. Likewise,
Christians avoided eating meat on these days, primarily because meat was a luxury for most
people. For Christians who continue the tradition of fasting during Lent, the question is usually
about either giving something up (abstaining from certain foods or habits) or by taking up some
new habit. We’ll address the virtue in adding certain behaviors next week. Let’s focus for now
on the call to refrain from certain goods or behaviors.

The first principle of our faith is the goodness of God and of God’s creation. From that
first principle follows our understanding of salvation: God not only created a cosmos that is
“very good,” God was not content to see those wonders crafted in love fall into nothingness
(death). Instead, God fully embraced our humanity in the incarnation and through a true, physical
resurrection restored all things to himself. As sacramental people, we joyously affirm that God’s
place is in the world, working through material instruments (especially word, water, bread, and
wine) in order to equip the Body of Christ for its universal ministry of reconciliation. When
Christians abstain from a good that we enjoy in moderation it is not because these things are
inherently bad nor is the enjoyment of material comforts wrong. Rather, abstaining from these
goods is meant to open us up to something else. “Righteous suffering” is never an end to itself.
When the Lutheran tradition emphatically points to the crucified Christ, it is to proclaim a divine
radical act of solidarity with the human condition as a means of bringing salvation. His was a
death freely offered as a means of conquering death on our behalf.

Thus, when Christians fast (especially in combination with prayer), we are intentionally
practicing the discipline of “taking up the cross” in the imitation of Jesus (Philippians 2:6-7). I
too may ask what material comfort might I forego so that I may more readily recognize the face

of Christ in the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger? What “net” might I lay aside so
that I can answer the call (Mark 1:18; John 12:26)? One’s response to this perpetual question is a
matter of personal conscience and rooted in a particular context. Nonetheless, intentionally
setting this central question within Lent raises awareness of our universal call to active

Lent challenges us to reflect on how our natural pursuit of pleasure in the world might
inadvertently detract from another’s ability to receive the necessities of life. Since God gives
freely (James 1:17), where might I be an obstacle to that divine generosity? Since God did not
disdain the human body, how might I offer care for other bodies? Since God uses water and
wheat to effect salvation, how might I ensure their purity for others? Though difficult, wrestling
with this challenge certainly moves us closer to the kind of fast that Jesus demands: one in which
whatever we give up or take up, is a means to loving our neighbor in joyful thanksgiving for the
love we receive from God and through God’s creation.