Lent 2021: Fasting as a Lenten Discipline

The season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter is quickly approaching. One of the Lenten disciplines I commend to you this year is fasting. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about fasting and so I offer you some great insights from Dr. Scot McKnight’s excellent book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices. Hear him now:

Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments (p. xii).

St. Athanasius, one of the architects of Christian orthodoxy, knew the formative powers of the sacred rhythms of the church calendar. That calendar weaved in and out of mourning over sin (fasting) and celebrating the good grace of God (feasting). “Sometimes,” he says of the church calendar, “the call is made to fasting, and sometimes to a feast [like every Sunday when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection].”

…St. Augustine took fasting into a another area of formation. One way for Christians to find victory over temptation, St. Augustine reminded his readers, was to fast. Why? Because it is sometimes necessary to check the delight of the flesh in respect to licit [not forbidden or lawful] pleasures in order to keep it from yielding to illicit pleasures.

These two themes—fasting as a sacred rhythm in the church calendar and fasting as a discipline against sinful desires—are perhaps the most important themes of fasting in the history of Christian thinking (p. xv).

Dr. McKnight offers his own excellent definition of fasting:

Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). Does it bring results? Yes, but that’s not the point of fasting. Those who fasted in response to grievous sacred moments frequently—but not always!—received results, like answered prayer. But focusing on the results causes us to misunderstand fasting entirely.

Which leads us now to see fasting in an A —> B —> C framework. If one wants to see the full Christian understanding of fasting, one must begin with A, the grievous sacred moment (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). That sacred moment generates a response (B), in this case fasting. Only then, only when the sacred moment is given its full power, does the response of fasting generate the results (C)—and then not always, if truth be told. [So, e.g., in response to sin we fast and can receive forgiveness.]

What we are getting at here is very important: fasting isn’t a manipulative tool that guarantees results. The focus in our deepest Christian tradition is not moving from column B to column C but the A —> B movement. Fasting is a response to a sacred moment, not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not “if you fast you will get,” but “when this happens, God’s people fast [emphasis added] (pp. xviii-xix).

Dr. McKnight develops these ideas in the subsequent chapters of his book and I wholeheartedly commend it to you for your edification. As always, it is critically important for us as Christians to know why we do what we do. This pertains to worship and the various spiritual disciplines, fasting included. Therefore, this Lent I encourage you to fast regularly as a means to help you become a more Christ-oriented person and to live a cruciform (cross-shaped) life.

To purchase Dr. McKnight’s book on fasting, click this link.

Father Santosh Madanu: Transfiguration of the Lord

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday B, February 14, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; St. Mark 9.2-9.

Prayer: O God, who in the glorious transfiguration of your Only Begotten Son, confirmed the mysteries of faith by the witness of the Fathers, and wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to son ship, grant we pray, to your servants, that listening to the voice of your beloved Son, we may merit to become coheirs with him. In Jesus’ name we pray- Amen.

Dear Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Personal encounter always pushes our faith beyond the level of belief to the level of knowledge and certainty. That is why the Gospel of today speak about one thing – the experience of God’s glory. This is the experience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then to Moses and Elijah in the form of cloud and fire. 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Matt. 17:1-3).

The event of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ stands at the middle of his ministry. Six days earlier, our Lord prods the apostles on a survey about the popular and in-house opinions about him. Hence comes the two-fold questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”

The transfiguration answers the question of the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ with his glorious transfiguration before three of his apostles who stand as witnesses. The event further confirms Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi “You are Christ the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). As a beatific vision, it settles our Lord’s promise: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they SEE the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16: 27–28).

The surprising revelation of the Lord Jesus is that he is God.

Jesus Christ is a living, divine person who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life, and this revelation is not just a matter of an idea or a feeling, but is a densely textured fact of history. In Jesus Christ, God enters the events and circumstances of our lives by becoming a man, and he does so that humanity might share in the life of God.

 The solemnity of the Transfiguration is great day for the church to celebrate the privileged moment when three of Christ’s disciples glimpsed Christ’s divine glory. Peter, James, and John saw Christ for who he really and truly is—not just a prophet, or a philosopher, or a social activist, or one of many important historical figures, but God!

The reality of all this is overwhelming, and as such we might be tempted to make it all less that what it is, to dull its impact. Some would soften the blow in attempts to rationalize a differentiation between a “Jesus of history” and a “Christ of Faith,” making the man the reality and the God a symbol; but attempts to do this inevitably introduce us to a simulation of Jesus Christ rather than the real person.

In trying to make Christ less than who he reveals himself to be, it is Christ himself that we lose, and in losing Christ, we lose the gifts he wants us to enjoy- the forgiveness of sins, the salvation through grace and everlasting kingdom of God.

Faith in Jesus Christ engenders a unique, particular way of life, and through this way of life, Christ acts to change us and to change the world.

For this reason, what we believe about the Lord Jesus matters. The proclamation that Jesus Christ is God is not just a dogmatic statement or a religious proposition. The Church is not playing games with language, but identifying what the revelation of Jesus Christ really and truly is. The Church knows who the Lord Jesus is—not because of a scholarly consensus or a popular vote, but because she bears the legacy of the testimony of the Apostles, who knew Christ personally and learned from him who he is and what he asked us to do.

If you do not know who the Lord Jesus is, how will you know what it is that he wants you to do?  The way of life engendered by Jesus Christ necessitates a personal encounter with him in his Church.

God became human in Christ so that humanity could share in the life of God. This is the great mystery of the Transfiguration unveiled. This is what the Gospel is all about.

The surprising revelation of Jesus Christ, who is God, is what the Church celebrates today.

  • The ascent to the mountain with the three disciples
  • Lot of encounters with God take place on the mountain top. Abraham takes Isaac to mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God where he hears the voice of God speaking with Him.
  • Moses receives the Law on Mount Sinai and he hears God speaking with Him.  
  • The height of the mountain signify the transcendence- the vision from the hill top.  This is the stand point of God.
  • Martin Luther king    the night before his assassination in his famous speech said “I have been to the mountain top”.  The experience beyond the ordinary.

Our Lord invites three of his apostles to undertake a pilgrimage with him to the mountain. He chooses Peter, James, and John. The number “three” not only reminds us about the Trinity, but it also indicates completeness, and regarding bearing witness, it is apt.

He chooses those who are willing to climb the mountain with him (Psalm 24:3). From the Gospels, the three represent the highly ambitious trio within the apostolic college. Peter is determined to stand with the Lord (Matt. 26:33) while James and John request for seats at the right and left hand of the Lord in his GLORY (Mark 10:35-45) and they would experience that glory on the mountain of transfiguration.

  • The mountaintop transfiguration.
  • Jesus went to beyond the form that he had- something more.  He revealed the depth of Himself.  The divinity beyond humanity.
  • The light is the symbol of mystical experience and symbol of beauty.
  • The tent is the place where the Tabernacle of the Lord is kept to worship. May this be focus of our worship because the mystical become the reality for our worship.
  • The voice from the cloud indication of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. God speaks with His people.

Transfiguration is an incredible positive change, something amazing happens, While the disciples watch, our Lord’s appearance changes as his face shine like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white.

What could be the meaning of this luminous apparition? 

The vision of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14) tells us among other things:

I saw: One like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; and when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the One like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship….

The Transfiguration represents the unveiling of the glory of heaven on earth with the appearances of glorified men of the mountain; Moses, and Elijah. No wonder Peter declares as the vision lasts: “It is wonderful for us to be here.” Yes, it will be more wonderful if we all could make it to heaven and be in God’s presence forever.

  • Lessons from the mountaintop transfiguration
  • The point is that we have access to God the Father and for our salvation is only through Jesus Christ.

The description of the kingdom of heaven has been the theme of the Gospel that Jesus preached. The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord seems to be the last in the series but with a deeper and more involving description the Kingdom of heaven.

 The kingdom of God is beautiful, glorious, and comforting. However, before we get there, we need to ascend the mountain.  It requires resilience, commitment, and discipline.

To get to the mountaintop, one would need to drop one’s baggage at the foot of the mountain. Dropping our baggage entails disengaging from the distractions of the lower region to advance to the upper area. It involves change and profound change as such. It requires disengagement from sin.

The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine facility at our service; it is also our transfiguration. The Transfiguration is a call for us to rise from our preoccupation with lowly things while striving and longing for higher values. The Transfiguration encourages us to rise from the base to the tops.

In life, we grow by changing. Those who do not grow are those who refuse to change. But those who embrace positive change improve, obtain new values, opportunities and new beginnings.

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ may we strive daily to respond to the invitation to change by ascending to the mountain with the Lord for a better and more resplendent life. May we also accept the instruction of God the Father to listen to His Beloved Son who is pleasing to Him

 St. Peter was a testimony of the transfiguration. St. Peter noted that they “did not follow cleverly devised myths” in order to proclaim their experience of the transfiguration. They were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ glory and heard the command from the Father. It was a life changing experience for them, Peter, James, and John. For them to even suggest to just stay there revealed much of the transfiguration. 

 (2 Peter 1:16–18).

This personal encounter that must enable every Christian to make what Soren Kierkegaard calls ‘the transcendental leap of faith’ or embrace a fundamental option for Christ through a daily devotion to the listening and obedience to God’s Word.

This, I imagine, was the reality of being a follower of Jesus. Moments of amazement and joy at the miracles and thoughts of a new kingdom where the last would the first, the meek would inherit the earth and those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness would claim the kingdom of God; followed closely by intense times of confusion, jealously and terror of the unknown. Peter has experienced these two feelings at the same time before and here he is again. Wanting to be helpful, trying to care for the temporal needs of Jesus and much to his amazement Elijah and Moses but knowing somehow that something has changed. Something is different, something important has just happened here and although he doesn’t seem to recognize it, something has also begun to happen to Peter.

Transfiguration Sunday is right before Ash Wednesday and the church’s season of Lent because it marks a final turning point in this metamorphosis of the disciples. In the next weeks they will walk with Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. They will understand the peril they will face, that their own ends will not be any better than Jesus’. They will share in his passion, struggle to understand why they agreed to follow him in the first place, deny knowing him, and then try to be able to comprehend his resurrection and their part in this Good News that would be shared to the four ends of the earth.

Jesus revealed to them the glory and the kingdom that awaits those who suffer on his account. That his kingdom is not like earthly kingdom built with authority and power but the one that is built with self-giving and love. The revelation of his glory gives us reason to believe, reason to hope and reason to move on.

Let us have experience of this transfiguration of the Lord and hear the voice of God and obey the command of Jesus Christ to be holy and truthful.

Happy feast of Transfiguration.  Amen, Alleluia.