Whether it was to give up sweets, run a marathon, learn a new language or lose a pound, chances are most of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions. After all, we’re six weeks into 2018 and that’s more than enough time for things to go awry. It’s also enough time to start considering the opportunities ahead.
If you were to take up a liturgical calendar, you might notice Ash Wednesday is roughly a week away and stands as the gateway into the season of Lent, which ultimately culminates in Holy Week and Easter. Traditionally the 40 days of Lent are used as an opportunity to reflect, prepare and maybe even abstain from a specific vice. In some ways — and to stick with our theme above — you might think of it as a time to renew worthwhile resolutions or even begin to see previous resolutions as an opportunity for worship.
As for me, I don’t think I’m going to give anything up this year. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of vices and things I ought to change in my life. But I want to go a step further, and I think Isaiah 58 may shed light on a more positive way of entering the season. You can read the whole chapter on your own, but I’m specifically compelled by verses 6-7, which read:
6 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? 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 them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
In other words, the act of fasting and abstaining from something for 40 days may be worthwhile and have precedent in church tradition, but in many ways it can be individually minded and inwardly focused. What if, instead, we take a positive step by focusing outwardly on others and doing a little good in this world? What if we could exhibit God’s Kingdom in more tangible ways, both as individuals and as a church family? I mean, you and I can enter into Lent with a sort of “hippocratic oath” mentality and hoping simply to do no harm, or we can seize the season and do some good along the way. I hope you’ll be brave enough to join me in considering these options, and I hope I’ll be bold enough to join you, too.