Yesterday was one of those days that we all dread: the day where the schedule is so packed lunch becomes a faint, dying glimmer of hope. I managed to scarf down a peanut-butter sandwich before my voice lessons started, but it was a close thing. Warm-ups get a lot harder when you’ve got peanut butter residue all in your mouth.
Lent starts tomorrow. Did you remember? Originally, it was a time for those preparing for their Easter baptism to fast, pray, and prepare themselves for the majestic, terrifying, glorious, difficult journey of following Jesus for the rest of their lives. We tend to do baptisms year-round now whenever anyone makes that incredible decision, and so Lent has become a general period of fasting, prayer, and preparation for the Easter celebration.
Fasting happens quite a lot in the Bible – and why not, it’s a religious practice that goes back millennia. In particular, I think about Jesus. In the accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, after a period of fasting, his first temptation is always turning stones to bread. The temptation is a nuanced one encompassing satisfying oneself selfishly, abuse of power, relying on the self instead of trusting God. Jesus realizes the nuance and responds to the temptation like so, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus cuts right to the heart of the temptation by reciting a passage that directly states that there is more to life than worrying about what we will eat or drink, and that we should “seek first the kingdom” and then “all these things will be given.”
Thinking further along in Lent, though, is the remembering of Jesus’ last Passover meal and Passion that follows. There, Jesus institutes a new meaning to the Passover symbols. He hands his friends and followers bread, and wine, and says that they are his body and blood that are broken and spilled out on behalf of the world he loves. There is something profound about such simple, common foods being used. Jesus didn’t use the bitter herbs, or the charoset. He didn’t use a mixture of spices or a complicated recipe. He used baked grains that are served at nearly every meal across the world and said, “Remember me.”
I am no longer completely confident I understand Jesus’ phrasing in choosing, “This is my body.” I have attended Mass and felt the Spirit move at the moment of consecration. I have also felt the Spirit move while dipping bread into a cup with fellow students. I have felt the Spirit present in the quiet or celebratory sharing of a piece of Matzah and a thimble of grape juice. I have shared this moment with people from all over America, and across the world. I say all that to make this point: every meal we share with those who believe, be they family or friends or new acquaintances, can become a celebration of Jesus, his life, resurrection, and Kingdom.
So as we prepare, some fasting, some not, stop and reflect when your stomach grumbles. We do need food, but we also need God’s life and His breath to sustain us. We need His Church, our fellow disciples, as we follow our King together. We need daily what God provides through His Word.
Whether you break your fast with toast and jam, or a magnificent smorgasbord, take a moment and pray. Be thankful, be joyful, be solemn, be reverent. Wherever you happen to be in life, give your worship and thanks… even over a peanut butter sandwich.