Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apple Piety

Yesterday, at 12:01 AM, I was standing in a GameStop near my apartment.  Why?  To pick up Dragon Age II, of course.  A video game that I had pre-ordered so that I could start playing it as soon as possible.  Just a half hour before then, I was telling a friend of my plans.  After first expressing a small amount of jealousy, he then asked (jokingly) if I was giving up video games for Lent.  The answer to that question is a resounding NO, but I had to figure out something, didn't I?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of a church season marked by self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on Scripture.  Many Christians take up some form of spiritual discipline for the season of Lent, usually in the form of not eating sweets or something similar.  This tends to turn into, "Look how good of a Christian I am.  I'm not going to eat chocolate for the next 40 days!"  When I look at a couple verses from one of the readings chosen for Ash Wednesday services, however, I get the feeling this attitude completely misses the purpose of Lent.

Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
-Isaiah 58:5-7

The idea behind fasting or self-denial is not to make ourselves feel miserable in order to feel like we are then right with God.  I'm reminded of a line from a song by the Cross Movement: "Cause it's gonna take more than a slice of apple piety."  Instead of trying to make ourselves feel better, instead of making whatever pious gesture we think somehow makes God like us more, we should be doing what we can to serve others.  This Ash Wednesday, I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent by seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

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