Observe a holy Lent

February 15, 2013

Grace and peace to you from the Lord who forgives all our sins and whose mercy endures forever.

Lent is a 40-day season of preparation for the Easter celebration. It is a time of penance and prayer; a time of rending our hearts and returning to God; a time of fasting and self-denial; a time of ashes and anticipation. The penitential spirit of Lent is always tempered with joyful expectation of resurrection. The discipline of self-denial is always tempered with the grace of self-giving.

The prophet Isaiah reminded a very religious people that their pious devotion counted for nothing because it was not matched with caring for the poor and oppressed.

“Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 (Common English Bible)

Religious piety is bankrupt without justice. Lenten disciplines are hollow without sacrificial service. Lenten ashes and sackcloth are empty symbols without solidarity with the poor who wear rags every day. Fasting is void of true spiritual content without sharing your bread with the hungry. Retreating to a sacred prayer place is arrogant without providing places for the homeless.

According to Isaiah, when God’s people marry piety and justice and merge fasting and social responsibility, then

  • light will break out like the dawn;
  • righteousness will walk before you;
  • calls to the Lord will be answered;
  • life will be like a spring of water that won’t run dry; and
  • you will be called Mender of Broken Walls and Restorer of Livable Streets (Isaiah 58:8-12)

It is clear our own spiritual and physical health is intricately and intimately bound to the health and well-being of our neighbors. Or, as we affirm in our Wesleyan tradition, personal holiness and social holiness are the inseparable, twin pathways of discipleship.

I invite every United Methodist in the Minnesota Conference to walk in the footsteps of Jesus on his way to the cross. I invite every United Methodist in Minnesota to observe a Holy Lent by prayer, fasting and self-denial and by actively doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8b). This is the devotion the Lord chooses. This is the pathway to righteousness. This is the doorway to becoming a vital congregation. This is the spiritual preparation necessary for the Easter celebration.

May the Holy Spirit restore you to newness of life and boldness of witness during your Lenten journey.

Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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