In mediaeval times, Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) was the day to use up and feast on the food items which would be forbidden during Lent: eggs, milk, butter and animal fats. Nowadays, instead of giving up basic food for Lent, many of us tend to give up luxuries like chocolate, cakes, or coffee, using Lent as an excuse to lose weight, give up smoking, or something else.
A cycle of moderate fasting and feasting is undeniably good for us, but the true meaning of Lent is lost if it gets incorporated into the quest for a perfect body or a regime of fitness; we’ll have blurred the true meaning of the fast into an excuse to detox or declutter. Lent isn’t a time to satisfy our own egos with the idea that we’re smart and in control. On the contrary; Lent should release us from the need to try harder, achieve more, or feel more worthy.
The idea of fasting is to allow us the opportunity to face reality and gaze more deeply into the loving face of God. Lent is about denying ourselves some of the essentials of everyday life in order to focus on the reality that we depend upon God for life itself, and that everything we have is a gift from Him.
Sadly, a large part of modern society eats, drinks and spends to excess and, even in recessionary times, most people have more than the majority of the world can but dream of. An obscene percentage of food purchased in British shops (perfectly edible food) ends up in landfill. One move we could make this Lent might be to examine the level of waste in our own households. Some of us, instead of giving up luxuries, could maybe review our cooking and eating habits and buy only what we need and will eat, making sure we use up leftovers, and thereby reducing unnecessary waste. Perhaps such economies might make it possible for some of us to put an extra item or two into our shopping trolley to donate to the foodbank this Lent? This small gesture, reproduced throughout our local community, could make such a huge difference to the many people who have insufficient to eat, and be such an amazingly positive Lenten routine.
Waste becomes even more obscene when so many rely on foodbanks; when so many have difficulty feeding children, especially during the school holidays; when so many in our community are hungry or struggling.
We don’t all have money to give, and many of us live frantically busy lives with little spare time. If at best all we can manage is some small personal sacrifice, or just a few minutes a day in prayer or reflection, the benefit to us and to others could be enormous.
I pray that you will all be aware of God’s upholding strength and love throughout this Lent, however tiny or however great the sacrifice you are able to make.
Yours in Christ,
Annie Billson, Assistant Priest