Reflection on Lent, Fasting and Fixing Eyes on Jesus
The time of Lent is not, primarily, about fasting and self-mortification. It is important that we not confuse the useful, helpful spiritual disciplines of Lent with the true purpose of Lent: to fix our eyes on Jesus and to ponder the purpose, reasons and necessity of our Lord’s suffering and death for us. Having said that, and keeping this very clear, it is unfortunate that Lutherans have forsaken the ancient Lenten disciplines, simply, and mostly, our of fear that we will make them our focus. Our Lord Jesus assumes that His disciples will fast. He says, “But when you fast…” not “But if you fast…” Fasting is indeed a fine, outward, bodily discipline, as Luther himself states in the Catechism. But it is never fasting, for the sake of fasting.
Some say that fasting is about learning to say to the stomach, “You aren’t the boss.” I think it is that, but I think even more, fasting helps us focus more intently on Christ. Here’s how. When I cut back on the amount of food I’m eating and I feel that twinge, or even sharp stab of hunger, I am immediately reminded: Oh, yes, hunger. Yes, Lent. Yes, Jesus suffered for me. He felt the deep sharp stab of thorn and nail, for me.
Here is an ancient reflection and confession of sin, which is useful, I added the last verse, the Kingo lines.
Before Thy glory, O Christ my Savior, I will announce all my misconduct
and confess the infinitude of Thy mercies, which Thou pourest out upon
me according to Thy kindness.
From my mother’s womb I began to grieve Thee, and utterly have I
disregarded Thy grace, for I have neglected my soul. Thou, O my Master,
according to the multitude of Thy mercies, hast regarded all my
wickedness with patience and kindess. Thy grace has lifted up my head,
but daily it is brought low by my sins.
Bad habits entangle me like snares, and I rejoice at being thus bound.
I sink to the very depths of evil, and this delights me. Daily the
enemy gives me new shackles, for he sees how this variety of bonds
The fact that I am bound by my own desires should provoke weeping and
lamentation, shame and disgrace. And yet more terrible is the fact that
I bind myself with the shackles that the enemy places upon me, and I
slay myself with the passions that give him pleasure.
Although I know how dreadful these shackles are, I hide behind a noble
appearance from all who might see. I appear to be robed in the
beautiful clothes of reverence, but my soul is entagled with shameful
thoughts. Before all who might see, I am reverent, but inside I am
filled with all manner of indecency.
My conscience accuses me of all this, and I act as if I wish to be
freed of my shackles, yet I ever remain bound by the same snares.
How pitiful I am; and how pitiful is my daily repentance, for it has no
foundation. Every day I lay a foundation for the building, and again
with my own hands I demolish it.
My repentance has not even made a good beginning as yet; yet there is
no end to my wicked negligence. I have become a slave to passions and
to the evil will of the enemy who destroys me.
Who will give the water to my head, and the founts to my eyes for
tears, so that I may ever weep before Thee, O merciful God, that Thou
mightest send Thy grace and draw me, a sinner, out of the sea, furious
with the waves of sin, that hourly convulses my soul? For my desires
are worse than wounds that cannot be bandaged.
I wait hoping for repentance and deceive myself with this vain promise
until my death. Ever do I say, “I will repent,” but never do I repent.
My words give the appearance of heartfelt repentance, but in deed I am
always far from repentance.
What will happen to me in the day of the trial, when God unveils all
things at His court! Certainly I shall be sentenced to torment, if here
I have not moved Thee to mercy, O my Judge, by my tears.
I hope on Thy mercies, O Lord; I fall at Thy feet and beseech Thee:
Grant me the spirit of repentance and lead my soul out of the dungeon
of iniquity! May a ray of light shine in my mind before I go to the
terrible judgment which awaits me, where there is no opportunity to
repent of one’s wicked deeds.
-St. Ephraim the Syrian, A Spiritual Psalter
On My Heart Imprint Your Image
By: Thomas H. Kingo
On my heart imprint your image,
Blessed Jesus, king of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation!