Scripture - Isaiah 58
Reflection - In this passage we read on Ash Wednesday, Isaiah calls out to a people with a superficial religiosity, a people who resist transformation. They desire an external appearance of piety without the interior journey of love. The Lord reveals through Isaiah the way in which acts of true piety leads to an awareness of community and a desire to meet the needs of others. He also describes the way in which true fasting and true humility enable the people to be guided and protected by the presence of the Lord and to delight in the rest of the Lord on the Sabbath.
I often find myself not unlike Isaiah’s audience. I can seek the external obligations of spiritual disciplines while at the same time resisting the invitation of God to encounter and transformation. I can find myself seeking to satisfy a spiritual hunger with physical pleasure. The Lenten call to fasting is not a call to a superficial act of self-denial but rather a call to a deep examination of our spiritual hunger. It is a call to receive from God what only God can provide, to cultivate the humility to allow God to guide and protect us.
Practice - This week, let us prayerfully consider the ways in which we are spiritually hungry.
We begin by noticing the ways our body tells us “too much.”
- notice that miserable feeling when we have eaten, drank, exercised, slept, stayed awake, scrolled, screamed, or otherwise done more of something than we know is healthful and yet remain unsatisfied.
- notice without self-condemnation but rather with curiosity about the true desire we were trying to fulfill with food or drink or distraction.
- Perhaps we are seeking security or affection or meaning. Perhaps we have become so numb that we are simply seeking to feel. Perhaps we have worried and worked so much that we desire simply to rest.
Now notice the ways that God may be inviting you to receive from Him what only he can provide. How might you accept His invitation? In what ways do you resist?
Now let us close with the collect from for the Third Sunday in Lent:
Heavenly Father, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you: Look with compassion upon the heartfelt desires of your servants, and purify our disordered affections, that we may behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 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 him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”