Today is Ash Wednesday. Historically, it has been a solemn fast day, second only to Good Friday. We aren’t much on fasting these days. Denying ourselves anything or delaying gratification is anathema. I hear more and more people declaring that life is too hard already so they aren’t giving up anything for Lent. All of these attitudes scream the warning that these are the very reasons Lent’s call is so important.
It isn’t just that we are an increasingly obese nation physically; obesity is a word that describes the American soul, even if we are one of the skinny few. Few of us have a clue what a hard life looks like. The standard comforts of the average American house would have seemed outrageously opulent only two generations ago. Last Sunday I read that Jimmy Carter grew up in a modest home without indoor plumbing, and they considered themselves to be middle class. The truth is that, even today, if you have indoor plumbing you would be considered upper class in many parts of the world.
We are like people living and working at a banquet table 24/7; the only hunger we know is that which we impose upon ourselves so we can fit into those jeans. Our hands are soft, and our muscles see little work outside a gym. Walking too long in the mall makes our feet and back ache. Regardless of how much we weigh, we are obese, and the excess fat of our lives is clogging our very souls. We feel deprived if we have to wait until something goes on sale to afford it. We feel we have made a sacrifice if we give a little of our excess to support our church or some other charity. We are oppressed by the fact that we do not live like the “one percent.” We feel noble and good about ourselves whenever we simply do what is right.
This is a harsh judgment, and if you feel that it doesn’t apply to you then you have just convicted yourself. That is the message of Ash Wednesday. It is a call to repentance, and when we think we need it least is probably when we need it most. Think of the guy who last week had a heart attack while eating a “triple bypass burger.” Does this describe the state of our souls? It doesn’t have to. We have 40 days to work on changing.
In observance of Lent, Virginia-Highland Church will offer a brief multimedia worship service this evening at 6:30 p.m.