From the Feb.9, 2020 homily by (The Very Rev'd) M. Ansley Tucker
Today’s first reading from Isaiah is actually an alternative reading for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. And you can see why: through the prophet, God is asking what constitutes a fast which is pleasing to God. It becomes clear pretty quickly that it isn’t giving up chocolate or booze. (So far, God is with Fr Ross!) “Is not this the fast that I desire,” says the Lord:
“To loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and to bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
And here is where I want to suggest that there is indeed a need for us to step back from (to “quit”) a very great deal of what we might simply assume “makes the world go round.” To admit that we have compulsions and appetites and behaviours that are far more insidious than our so-called “sinful pleasures.” And – because they are woven right into the fabric of our culture, our economy, our class structure and our assumptions – they are also far more difficult to give up. (Or for that matter, even to recognize and name.)
By all means, let us take up improving practices for Lent (and dare I say, not just for Lent but “for good”). I’m all for it!
But let us also recognize that there is no creating the kingdom of God without leaving go, fasting from, quite a lot of what feeds our privilege, and protects us from rubbing up against the grubby, grotty, gritty reality that is the lot of the majority.
Especially in the West, where “The Economy” has assumed god-like proportions in driving public policy, and shaping our perceptions about how much is enough, we have, one and all, been cast in the role of consumers. To shop is no longer a necessity, but a pastime. Covetousness and gluttony, rather than being numbered amongst the worst of sins, are acts of patriotism. We can buy breakfast at IKEA, an RSP at the grocery, and junk food at the pharmacy (how counterintuitive is that?!) Everywhere we turn, we are urged — for the sake of The Economy — to buy and to eat. The same issues are writ large when it comes to our insatiable depletion of the resources and beauty of the earth — arable land, fossil fuels, clean water, fisheries, the rugged wilderness.
To fast in these times is find ways to Stop, if only for a day. It is to identify with those in our world, and even in our city, for whom adequate (let alone over-) consumption is not even an option. It is to reframe our consumption in more sustainable ways. It is to recognize that just because something I want is available does not mean that it is “for me.” It is to rethink how much is enough.
For here is the thing, you can’t “undo the thongs of the yoke,” without losing the free labour your slave provided you. Sharing your bread with the hungry means there isn’t going to be as much bread for you. Covering the naked means giving up your own duvet. These things are the very definition of a fast.
Several years the Canadian FoodGrains Bank, which is a Christian food security agency, proposed several ways in which we could embrace the kind of fast that might be pleasing to God. Here are just a few suggestions:
1. If we’re going to fast from food, how about choosing fair trade coffee, tea or chocolate? Or reducing our dependence on out-of-season fruits that must be flown from New Zealand or the tropics in mid-winter. Or eating a little lower on the food chain from time to time? Or what about growing your own food or herbs – in a community garden, or your window sill?
2. What about a fast from fossil fuels – embracing meeting technology instead of 10 people driving from heaven knows where; or even taking public transit once a week? Or for that matter, driving the speed limit?
3. Or pledging to withdraw from over-consumption – How about a “buy-nothing” day each week? It’s amazing how much we buy just because it caught our attention: not because we were looking for it.
4. Since what the Lord God seems to require has a great deal to do with justice, how about a fast from complacency? Speak up. Visit or write your political representatives.
5. How about a fast from entertainment – and both its overt and subliminal messaging? What if we turned off the TV or the internet for a day, and reflected on the extent to which social and conventional media and advertising persuade us to consume more than we need? (After all, of course they do: it’s the advertising that keeps TV, radio and social media “on the air.”)
6. Or finally, what about a fast from disconnection? What if we took time to be face to face with each other? What if whenever we picked up a food item at the grocery, we noted its place of origin – and prayed for those who put that food on our plate?
The point is only this, as we head into Lent… yes, let us build new habits that will conform us to the mind and teachings of Christ. Let us not waste our time giving up things that do not matter. But may we also come to understand that if the kingdom of God is to come on earth, there’s quite a lot of fasting that needs to be done.