As we spend this first day of Lent fasting, perhaps it is good for us to slow down and listen carefully to the words of today's collect.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Campaign of Christian service, battle against spiritual evil, weapons of self-restraint. These are all images that many 21st century Christians can be uncomfortable with. We like to think of peaceful Jesus. Images of war are difficult for us to embrace. But if we look closely we notice that, as Jesus so often does, he turns the image on its head.
The battle is not against some human foe. It is the internal battle against spiritual evil, the battle we fight each day to avoid sin. The weapons are not guns, but the weapon of self-restraint. The campaign is not to retake some piece of land, but is a campaign of Christian service, a turning away from caring for self, and a focus on caring for others.
Today we do indeed begin a war, but our greatest enemy in this war may we'll be our self: our habitual ways of thinking and behaving, our tendency to focus on our own needs, wants and desires.
Our culture tells us to do what makes us happy. Self-restraint is truly counter-cultural and may we'll be the word we need to remind ourselves of every day of Lent.