ASH Wednesday heralds the forty-day season of Lent in the Christian calendar, associated with fasting and culminating in Easter – the central event of Christianity and one of its most significant liturgical festivals. The three, forty-day fasts recorded in the Bible, took place on mountains and usually preceded an important event.
Exodus 34 records Moses fasting 40 days on Mount Sinai, before receiving the 10 Commandments. As He descended the mountain, it is said His face shone with the light of God’s glory. Elijah also fasted 40 days, and thereafter on Mount Horeb (Sinai), God spoke to him in ‘a still small voice’. (I Kings 19). In the Gospel of Matthew 4, Christ Jesus’ fasted for forty days after which He successfully resisted temptation, before embarking on His unequalled ministry. The Bible says He went forth in the power of the Spirit (God). Although separated by centuries, these three were present on the mount of Transfiguration, just before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Abstaining from culinary delights for a period, to gain spiritual nourishment is not wrong, but what is the deeper and lasting spiritual import of Lent and fasting for Twenty-First century Christians? Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, says in Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, encourages looking to the Bible for practical, spiritual instruction.
Scripturally, fasting signifies the attitude of repentance. This should be the habitual attitude of a Christian, and not just during Lent. Turning away from the pleasures of sin and materiality to the joys of spirituality, fasting from the evidence presented by the physical senses and entertaining spiritual ideas given by God should be natural to Christians. True fasting involves destroying the tendency to be hypocritical, proud, wilful, envious and so on. A mountain signifies the Biblical closet, a secret place of prayer, where man communes with the Most-High and, like Moses, Elijah and Jesus, emerges refreshed with spiritual views.
Bible scholars attribute the number forty to a period of specific testing or probation. Be that as it may, today, the forty-day Lent season is an opportunity to do away with sinful traits and gain the enlightenment of man’s true spiritual nature, in practical terms. Then, Christians discover the joy of living a fasted life, and prove that the blessings of Easter – the presence of the risen Christ – are not to be awaited after a forty-day probationary period, but experienced practically every day.
• Moji Solanke, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Nigeria West