My church is currently going through a Christian Practices sermon series until Easter. We’ve already examined 4 Christian Practices that the people of faith have utilized to provoke Christian formation.
Fasting was the focus of last Sunday and will be this next Sunday. I read through Scot McKnight’s Fasting book in the Ancient Practices Series and found his insight helpful. In many of the biblical examples of fasting, the practice was employed as a response, after a “grievous, sacred” event.
David “afflicted” himself with fasting in a time of sadness. (Psalm 35:13)
Ninevah fasted after hearing the news of God’s immanent wrath upon their city. (Jonah 3:6-9)
Job lowers himself in fasting after the complete devastation of his family, farm.
Saul fasts after his earth-shattering experience on the Damascus road. (Acts 9:9)
Even Jesus, when challenged concerning why his disciples did not fast, like John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees, said that it wasn’t the proper time to fast. (Mark 2:18-20 & parallel passages in Matthew 9 and Luke 5)
John Goldingay, commenting on Psalm 35:13 says, “David’s sorrow was not full bloomed until his body expressed it.” Something powerful happens when all of who we are in calibrated to the same note.
In short, fasting allows the body to be synced with the sorrow and sadness that heart, soul, mind, spirit is experiencing. This reality “learned” within one’s body helps the disciple not to avoid the difficult things in life, “pressing” sadness and pain down within us without experiencing it. Fasting reminds us that we are not invincible, that we are frail and dependent on God and others for our well-being.
Fasting is a rehearsal of hope, though. A period of fasting ends with a meal, a transition. That fasting meal reminds our bodies that we can be rescued and nourished, that depletion does not have the last word. When fasting is used alongside of our sorrow, surely we can know that our sorrow and pain will not have the last word, but as food restores our bodies, God is restoring all things.