At its heart Lent is a penitential season. As Lutherans, we define repentance:
3 Now, strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. 4 One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. 5 The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel [Romans 10:17] or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. 6 Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruit of repentance [Galatians 5:22–23].
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Augsburg Confession, Article XII
Now if one’s observance of Lent is merely giving up an arbitrary luxury, then they have missed the point. For this is neither true repentance, nor a “good work” which is the fruit of repentance, as such good works are to benefit our neighbor. Next to gathering together to hear the Word of God preached, receive absolution, and receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of our sins, one of the best ways to observe Lent is in service to our neighbor. In Word and Sacrament we meet our Lord and Savior, who is the whole reason for observing Lent, and in our neighbor we also find Christ (see Matt. 25). Ultimately Lent is about Jesus.
So is there a place for fasting in Lent? Well, yes… and not just during Lent, but throughout the year. As Jesus says, “When you fast…” (not “if”). But fasting isn’t giving up on a particular food item and continuing to gorge oneself. Fasting is a reduction in food intake. As Christians have practiced this, it could be skipping a meal during the day, or eating simple quick meals that allow you to spend the time in prayer that you would normally spend in preparation. Money saved can also then be given to those in need.
So how does this work out? One pastor has suggested eating 1/2 of what you would normally eat for breakfast and lunch and a normal dinner. There’s a host of variations, but even at the heart of fasting, it isn’t about the quantity of food. Fasting is primarily a bodily discipline to control one’s bodily urges and to focus on prayer. As one looks through Scripture, almost every time fasting is mentioned it is attached to worship and/or prayer. The point is that the focus of fasting isn’t fasting itself, but first Christ, then our neighbor.
So have a great Lent, but most of all, whether you observe it by fasting or not, let us continue to encourage one another as we point each other back to Jesus Christ, who died for the forgiveness of our sins and rose sealing for us the promise of our own resurrection.