Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in Action

Tonight will be the second of the weekly Lenten Soup Suppers at Church of Christ the King in Minneapolis. I think the description of the event does a wonderful job of illuminating the relationship among prayer, almsgiving and fasting, the three traditional Lenten practices:

For many decades, our parish has observed the custom of gathering every Wednesday during Lent for prayer. Over twenty years ago, we initiated the custom of sharing a simple meal of soup and bread on Wednesday nights preceding the prayer service to augment the day’s observance of prayer, fasting penitence and almsgiving. The idea behind the soup supper was inspired by ancient Christian tradition. To whatever degree is possible for each individual, as a parish we observe Wednesday as a day of fasting and penitence. At the end of the day, we gather as a parish and break our fast with a simple meal of soup and bread. Whatever money we might save by fasting throughout the day each Wednesday, we give as alms to feed the hungry. Then we conclude our day together in prayer, reviewing with gratitude the events of the day, noting when and how we experienced God’s presence, asking forgiveness for any wrongdoing and asking for grace to follow God more closely tomorrow.

We can engage in prayer, almsgiving and fasting in different ways during Lent. But I love the idea of a communal parish practice (even though I’ll end up missing most of the dinners since I’ll be speaking at St. Thomas Apostle most of those evenings).

I especially love that the communal practice emphasizes the relationship between fasting and almsgiving, something that was a prominent theme in the writings of the early church fathers. The Shepherd of Hermas, a second century text reads: “In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan , or to some person in want.” Gregory the Great preached, “The one who does not give to the poor what he has saved but keeps it for later to satisfy his own appetite, does not fast for God.”

We sometimes forget the relationship, so it is good to have the reminder.