Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand –
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
‘Even now,’ declares the Lord,
‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.’
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing –
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘‘Where is their God?”’
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Christians, generally, don’t pay much attention to the Biblical idea of fasting as a way of expressing sorrow for sins and a desire for God’s favour. This is interesting as when Mohammed met a Nestorian monk in 6th century Arabia he was impressed by the severity of the Lenten fast but as he felt it was too harsh he made the Muslim fast of Ramadan (no food or drink in day light hours for 28 days) as a lesser discipline. Our Orthodox sisters and brothers still take fasting seriously with a vegetarian diet followed for a few weeks before Lent and then a vegan diet for the six weeks of Lent; many black-led churches see fasting as a valuable discipline. Roman Catholics are only obliged to fast on two days a year – today and Good Friday, whilst most Protestants don’t see fasting as a necessary discipline (and disputes about Lenten abstinence from meat played their part in the Reformation in Zurich).
Interestingly as large parts of Western Christianity have lost interest in fasting it has been embraced as a discipline by those wishing to lose weight – the 5:2 diet where one eats normally on five days but fasts (well only 600 calories) is gaining in popularity. Using a gym (my friends tell me) requires discipline; losing weight requires an iron will; learning a language requires much rote learning and practice. In the part of Manchester where I live there are several Buddhist groups who offer meditation classes – for which people pay – and which expect regular attendance and practice at home.
Lent is a time of renewal and renewal requires discipline; it is a time to take the practice of our faith seriously – whether that’s some fasting, giving something up, taking something up, making a special effort to reflect on the Bible, more, give more money away or spend more time in prayer. We hope these daily devotions will help you as we journey through Lent together.
Andy Braunston is the North Western Synod Clerk and is preparing for URC ministry at the Scottish College.
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