Joel 2:1–2, 12-17 (NIV)
2 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—
2 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.
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to Me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 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.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
16 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.
17 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?’ ”
Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent is the beginning of a 40 day period of penitential reflection. That is, a time in which one looks back and confesses one’s sins seeking forgiveness, and then seeking direction for present and future living.
Lent is the 40 day period of time before Easter (excluding the Sundays) and is an analogy of Jesus' 40 day fast while He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The custom of fasting in Lent began at an early stage in the history of the Christian Church and is practised by many people today - but more about this later.
The name Ash Wednesday comes from the custom of daubing worshippers foreheads with the burnt ashes of the palms from the previous years Palm Sunday celebrations. The ash is a token of penitence and human mortality - hence the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
The celebration of Ash Wednesday on the first day of Lent has it’s origins in the Gelasian Sacramentary which is a Roman Catholic liturgical program with origins in the 5th century.
The Lenten celebration ends with Holy Week. Holy Week traditionally is full of Christian celebration. Wednesday of holy week is known as Spy Wednesday because of Judas’ preparations for betraying Jesus.
Maundy Thursday is commemorated because Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes the Thursday of Holy Week is called Holy Thursday.
In German it is called “Grundonnerstag (Green Thursday) because of the foot-washing recorded in the Gospel of John 13:1-15. The Green Thursdat origin is obscure but may have one of the following explanations:
- the day is associated with giving penitents, that is those who are sorry for their sins, a green branch on that day,
- a reference to penitents being re-admitted to the fellowship as “green,” with new life.
- eating green herbs on that day to guard against disease,
- the use of green paraments (that is altar cloths) in Germany on that day.
The Roman Catholic tradition used white paraments and so the day has also been called “White Thursday”.
Maundy Thursday gets its English name either from the Latin translation of John 13:34 - Mandatum nouvum do vobis.” “A new command I give you: or from the custom of carrying gifts to the poor in maunds (hand baskets).
Good Friday is a day of deep mourning and the name probably comes from “God’s Friday” just as “good morning” has its origins in “God’s morning to you” or “God grant you a good morning.”
The German name for Good Friday is “Karfreitag” - a name expressing sorrow.
Traditionally, Good Friday is a day of fasting - not eating during the hours of daylight. It’s worth having a look at the concept of fasting as a worthwhile experience. Many people fast during the season of Lent. It’s a spiritual discipline to remind us of Christ’s deprivation during His temptation.
The history of fasting goes back to the Old Testament where fasting was a voluntary preparation for worship or festivals. Sometimes it was prescribed as part of the prayer life of the people - especially in times of national crisis when God’s favour was sought.
This led the Pharisees to believe that they could earn favour with God by fasting. In first Century Judea fasting was a common practice. It wasn’t however compulsory. In Matthew 9:14 we’re told that the disciples didn’t fast and Jesus never commanded it. But the Apostles did fast at times:
Acts 13:22 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (NIV)
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (NIV)
With the monastic movement in the Middle Ages fasting was imposed in the Roman church. This fasting generally meant abstaining from all food during the hours of daylight.
With the Reformation in the 16th century the Lutheran reformers taught that fasting was a fruit of repentance. The Augsburg Confession (AC 26.37-39 – Tappert) says:
“Paul said that he pummelled His body and subdued it, and by this he indicated that it is not the purpose of mortification to merit grace but to keep the body in such a condition that one can perform the duties of one’s calling. Thus fasting in itself is not rejected, but what is rejected is making a necessary service of fasts on prescribed days and with special foods, for this confuses consciences.”
Fasting is commanded by God in the same way that prayer and giving to the needy is commanded. They are natural responses the Christian makes to God’s goodness. Fasting is useful in keeping the flesh in check. It may be used as a external preparation for receiving Holy Communion and may be practised during the season of Lent to assist in one’s prayerful repentance.
I encourage you to consider this Christian discipline as you remember the weight of human sin - our sin - borne by Jesus as He journeyed to the cross. Some people give up eating meat, chocolate, coffee or some other thing they particularly enjoy as their fast.
Some do not have breakfast until after they have worshipped and received the Lord’s Supper. They break their fast with Holy Communion. The word “breakfast” actually means to ‘break the fast.”
May God bless your Lenten devotion and worship.