Making Room for Alleluias: A New Kind of Lenten Fast 2024

By Rev. Eugenia A. Gamble

Throughout the centuries of the church’s common life it has been a common practice during the forty days plus Sundays leading up to Easter Day for the faithful to ‘give up something’ as a sign of devotion. Often those commitments fade fast, and even if we do remain steadfast, the practice becomes a dogged exercise of self will that leaves us rushing to the Seven Eleven for Twinkies as soon as the clock ticks past midnight on Easter morning. While God blesses all attempts at faithfulness, I do wonder about how much the kingdom actually hinges on our ability to refrain from sugar, broccoli or cussing for forty days only to become more focused on those things by the very act of denying them.

Still, Jesus himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. After that great high, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to grapple with his identity and do spiritual battle with anything and everything that sought to undermine him. Remember, that in addition to being the Son of God, Jesus was also fully human, just as we are. He faced and wrestled with the same ‘devils’ that we do. In order for him to do what he came to do, he had to tame the competing forces and release any power they held over him. With Jesus as our model, I believe that each of us must do that as well if we are to live our most blessed lives and be ready for all the Alleluias yet ahead of us.

The profound call to repentance is at the heart of the spiritual practice of Lent. This, of course, does not mean to simply feel sorry for our sins. Nor is it really about feeling shame or remorse. Repentance is about awakening to a new reality, leaving the old behind and heading in an entirely different direction with a fundamental change of heart and world view. Repenting is the work of awakening and beginning to fix broken relationships, priorities and habits of thought and action. For many of us that means letting go of that which does harm to anyone including ourselves. We do that letting go not as an act of will and jaw clenching discipline, but rather as a healing act that creates space for something completely new and life giving to emerge.

This year, I’d like to propose a different kind of Lenten fast from that which we may be accustomed to choosing. Loosely using the temptations that Jesus faced (see Luke 4:1-13), each day in Lent, I invite you to practice letting go of a particular habit or tendency of body or heart that has the capacity to lead you off course and cause harm to yourself or others. I invite you, as you practice this ‘fast’, to become consciously aware that you are making room in your life and soul for the Alleluias that are just ahead after the hard journey of letting go. You don’t need to try to wrestle whatever you a releasing out of you. It will only gain power if you do that and cling more tenaciously. Rather, like Jesus did in his wilderness, simply name the thing, recognize its danger, and let it go. Sometimes the release will be gentle and almost effortless. Other times you may need to cast your burden, hurl it with a little force. You will know which is called for. Just don’t ruminate on the thing and give if more power than it already has. Notice and say as a prayer: “I don’t need that. That’s not me. Thank you, Lord. I am making space for the Alleluias to come.” Close your devotion each day by repeating aloud the following verse from Isa. 43. Try to hear it as God’s response to your prayer. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

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