Let your steadfast love, O God, be upon us, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:22 (NRSV)
The Wesleyan and Methodist family have been invited respond to a call for a day of fasting, and of prayer. This call has been taken up by Pope Francis in his weekday prayer of 3 March 2020, to an invitation from the Human Committee of Human Fraternity, and furthered by the World Council of Churches; amongst others. The suggested day is 14 May, 2020.
John Wesley in suggesting fasting as a ‘means of grace’, fasting was not so much a question of whether Methodist’s did so, but ‘How do you fast?’. He commended a spirituality of fasting as much as a practice – to do so is to recognise the importance of loving God and of loving one’s neighbour.
In words of Susanna Wesley: Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in your presence. So may my every word and action have a moral content.
(“Practising the presence of God” in Prayers and Meditations of Susanna Wesley by Michael McMullen. Methodist Publishing House, Peterborough: 2000.)
Fasting can be an experience of practising and being attentive to the presence of God. It can represent a struggle to feel God being present, and it reveal an acute awareness of God’s presence like never before. We can discover a realisation or a reaffirmation that God is in all of ‘this’, in all the diverse experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic – life, death, sickness, healing, isolation, physical distancing, struggle, despair, loneliness, solitude, looking out for your neighbour, personal sacrifices, economic sacrifices, awareness of others whether they are too close or too far away. We attune ourselves to both our own experiences, the experiences of our family friends and colleagues, and the experiences of a world of people. This involves the whole self because God wants your whole self to participate in his mission in the world.
Therefore, fasting is a time for extending prayer, for yourself and others. As Wesley concludes in his seventh sermon in his series on the Sermon on the Mount (which is focused on fasting), the only thing to remain to be said is that of adding good deeds to our fast – giving alms and helping those in need.
Fasting and prayer, whether structured, literal, spiritual, or however we feel we can mark the time, is most of all an attentiveness to others – being alert and making ourselves aware of the obvious, the surprising, the unexpected, the longed for presence and moving of God, in a world and in peoples so terribly impacted by the pandemic of Covid-19. This is a calling for all people of faith and goodwill.
A reflection by (Rev) Tony Franklin-Ross, Chairperson – Ecumenical Relationships, World Methodist Council
Look kindly on our world, our God, as we suffer and struggle with one another. Look kindly on your Church, driven by the same necessity; and may the light we have seen in Jesus illuminate and brighten all the world. Amen.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3 (NRSV)
Risen and revealing God, you walked with us for a long time before we knew who you truly were. We talked about this world as if we were the ones who saw it clearly. Now that we more fully recognise your continued presence with us, give us eyes to see the beauty that surrounds us, as well as the problems we have too long ignored. And may our hearts then burn with your illuminating and catalysing fire that we might see the world that you envision. Amen. (© Community of Corrymeela – Ireland)
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. Psalm 107:4-9 (NRSV)
God of tumult, God of peace: more will change in the weeks and months to come. Further landscapes of our normal will be shaken to the ground. Gradual movements will accelerate, market trends will shift, and they will sweep away much of what we know. And so we pray for what we need: the reassurance of your strength in the midst of our community; and the life that returns in fuller resurrection after what we love is laid to rest. Amen. (© Community of Corrymeela – Ireland)
When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord. Psalm 107:39-43 (NRSV)
God of the protective fold, God of the abundant life: you did not form us to live in fear of others or in want of simple joys. In your keep may we find the abundance you came to provide: a constant supply of the love we need and an ever-opening expanse of a life that is ours to explore. Amen. (© Community of Corrymeela – Ireland)
In the commissioning words of Jesus: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b (NRSV)
God of opportunity and change, praise to you for giving us life at this critical time. As our horizons extend, keep us loyal to our past; as our dangers increase, help us to prepare the future; keep us trusting and hopeful, ready to recognise your kingdom as it comes; through the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.