Beacons of Hope: First Sunday of Lent

Romans 5:1-2

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

Romans 12:12

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”

For Western Christians, Lent is often a season of lament and mourning. If fasting isn’t difficult, then one should have sacrificed something greater, the thought may go. It is the pain of fasting that brings us closer to God. Many Eastern Christians, though, think of fasting differently. The Orthodox Church observes Great Lent, a seven-week fast in preparation for Easter, as a joyful and celebratory season! The Orthodox Church prepares for Great Lent with four weeks of liturgy, the second of which reflects on the parable of the prodigal son. The parable teaches that returning to the Father is a gift. Fasting during Lent is an act of repentance, but repentance is a joyful occasion because it means reconciliation with God.

True fasting is also joyful in that it is connected to Sabbath. When exhorting true fasting as, among other things, “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,” the Prophet Isaiah promises, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” (Isaiah 58:6, 8). Shortly after, he encourages the faithful to “keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath” and therefore “find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob” (Isaiah 58: 13, 14). For Isaiah, fasting is as much an occasion for celebration as sabbath observance.

Not only do we draw near to God in Lent, but we also remember God’s drawing near to us in the redemption of the world. By remembering God’s faithfulness to send Jesus once, we reaffirm our hope that Jesus will return and redeem the world. CMEP’s 2021 Lenten theme is “Beacons of Hope: Journeying in Faith for Peace and Justice in the Middle East.” Some think of hope as naive optimism that the world’s ills will naturally heal themselves. Others fear that hope assumes a narrative of progress for which history gives little evidence.

True hope recognizes all of the reasons for doubt, yet persists. In fact, if there were no reason to doubt God’s redemptive plan, believing in it would not be hope– it would be knowledge. Nor is hope merely the belief that things will somehow improve; that is optimism. True hope, which is neither knowledge of the future or mere optimism, involves our action to bring about the state of affairs for which we hope. Because our hope is ultimately in God to bring about the redemption of the world, having hope means partnering with God’s work. True hope means staying on the journey of faith, seeking peace and justice, even when all signs suggest that peace and justice may never come.

It is difficult to hope for a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this season of elections in Israel and Palestine, as well as the beginning of Biden’s administration, we remember that our hope is not in any politician but in God to bring about peace and justice. May we find hope to persist in witnessing to injustice and advocating for justice.

Merciful God, we give this season of Lent to you. We look forward to the day when we no longer fast because we are reunited with the Bridegroom, and all things are made new. In the meantime, fill our spirits with joy and hope as we wait for your final return and the redemption of all things. Amen.

Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.