For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
At noon on Ash Wednesday, a handful of us gathered online for Wednesday Noonday Prayer. While some came wearing ashes, we all arrived in that virtual space carrying our own stories of how we have been shaped over the years by this profound season on the Church calendar. In the midst of our time together, we reminisced about past seasons of Lent in our lives and our varied journeys to a personal observance of Lent.
Following that Wednesday prayer time, I continued to reflect on this flood of Lent memories; memories of my childhood fasts and some unconventional fasts from my past (fasting from sarcasm was an unexpectedly deep dive into self reflection). One memory that stuck out was actually a memory rooted in a Ramadan experience from many years ago.
As a student at Moody Graduate School, we were required to complete the World Religious Systems course. One of the assignments in that class was to experience the religious practices of at least three non-Christian religions. A classmate of mine was invited to have dinner with a family who were recent immigrants from Jordan; it was a bit of an exchange where they were hosting dinner in hopes of getting to practice their English. They were a Muslim family and it was the season of Ramadan; in joining them for dinner, my classmate would get to break their fast with them and enjoy a meal together. Since my classmate didn’t want to go by herself, she invited me to go with her.
We arrived at their very humble apartment and were greeted with such warm hospitality. The children ushered us into a simple dining space and showed us to our seats on the floor around a short table which was beautifully set. Around the table, we were greeted by the other women and children who were joining us for dinner. Since it was not quite sunset, we chatted while we waited. When the time finally came, we didn’t need a translator to tell us; the atmosphere in the room changed as the excitement showed on the faces of the children (and the adults for that matter). It was time to break the fast. A dish of dates was offered to my classmate and I before it was passed around the table. Dishes and dishes of delicious fried treats followed before a wonderfully abundant feast was set in front of us.
We ate and laughed together even as we tripped over the language barrier. The food was delicious and very filling, but what I loved most was watching the feasting. It was almost like a choreographed dance with platters floating across the table changing from hand to hand and plates passed through the maze of reaching arms serving food. More than the beauty of this movement around the table was the communal posture of everyone is feasting AND everyone is being fed. There was an empathy that grew out of the communal fasting all day which created an attitude around the table where the goal was not simply to fill your belly but rather to make sure everyone was fed. In South Africa, they would probably describe what I witnessed as Ubuntu.
At the end of the evening, the men came to our dining room and stood along the edge of the room, careful not to cross any cultural barriers. They wanted the opportunity to practice their English as well, and they knew we were Christians. A question asked by one of the men is what makes this Ramadan experience a Lent memory for me. He asked about Christian fasting; specifically, why don’t we have a time where we fast together. My classmate and I explained that Christians can fast anytime of year, but many Christians often choose to fast during the season of Lent when we reflect on the sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus. The idea of an optional fast blew his mind; he couldn’t understand how Christians can demonstrate unity without practicing a common fast.
I left that dinner feeling very grateful for the hospitality of that sweet family, the wonderful sense of community, and the experience of a common fast. I also left the dinner in deep contemplation about the gift of freedom we have in Christ. Whether we are fasting or feasting, the season of Lent is a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on this gift of freedom bought through the work of Christ on the cross and the beauty of the love we experience when we turn to Him again and again.