Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday & Divine Fasting

On this day of Ash Wednesday the appointed readings of holy Scripture are:

Psalm 6 (for Matins);
Psalm 51 (for Vespers);
Jonah 3:1-10;
Isaiah 59:12-21;
Joel 2:12-19;
and Matthew 6:16-21.

Repentance and fasting with and unto repentance is the theme of the day, as it is for the life of the Church.

People often choose only part of the definition of repentance for themselves. Often the chosen focus is merely the part that includes feelings of contrition and regret. But the New Testament word for repent is metanoia. It literally means a change of mind or thought. This is far more than the common feeling of sinful mankind of being sorry that we do not measure up to what we think that we ought to be and do. Metanoia is much more than this. It is an actual change of the mind in how it thinks. Metanoia is not only feeling sorry for our sinfulness and sinful actions, it is a change that is worked by God’s merciful love that overpowers us in our very being so that we are changed from idolaters to God fearing people. This is what changes one from being a disciple of choice to being a disciple of Christ, that is, a disciple of faith.

Faith is not a choice. Whatever godly and goodly choices that we make are produced by the faith that the Holy Spirit works in us, not the other way around. True contrition does not stop with being sorry and asking forgiveness. True contrition turns us around in our very thinking so that we no longer look to ourselves and our own thoughts and desires and actions, but to God and His thoughts and desires and actions.

The Old Testament word for this is shuv. It means to turn or be turned. God actually takes our minds and hearts and turns them back to Himself as the one from whom we receive all good things, so that we no longer look here and there or even to ourselves. When God works this change in who we are and in how we know ourselves, we are truly changed in our minds and in our being.

For this reason Philippians 2 seems especially appropriate for this day of repentance and fasting as well. Most especially the first twelve verses seem fitting:

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Likeminded. Oh what a wonderful focus for this season of Lent! If only we would repent of our own thoughts and our own ways, submitting to the will of God for His Church. If only we would hear the call of the Holy Spirit that we might be enlightened with God’s grace so as to be changed in our hearts and minds in accord with the merits of Jesus, who gave Himself for us and for all the world. How differently the Church would appear! How differently our lives would be lived. How truly blessed we would be! How confidently we would live, as we worked out our salvation so as to be certain that our faith is truly reliance upon the suffering and death of Jesus, and not upon anything else. Then we truly would be changed in our thinking and in our actions, for then the peace of God would rule our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus came to this world to be found in fashion as a man, though He Himself was the very form or morphe of God. He was and is the very morphe or nature of God. He is not merely godlike but is the very form of God. To see Jesus is to see the Father. To encounter Jesus is to encounter the Holy Spirit. Yet in Christ Jesus God made Himself to be a servant. In Christ God humbled Himself so as to serve as our Redeemer and Savior. When God works faith in us so that we are joined with Him in His holiness, this is the mind that is created in us in place of the minds that we choose. Jesus fasted concerning His equality with God, acting as a servant, placing our needs above His own glory and power. Today we fast of our weakness, in order that His power may not be hindered in us.

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