In the past, it would be fair to say that I've not always had positive things to say about Lent. I'd stand by that, perhaps especially this one. But I have also shifted quite significantly in recent times. As I get more into the rhythm of the church year (and I see that I started to follow it back in 2011), I find that there really is virtue in alternation of fast and feast. Today I've been pondering how together they help us to live into our Christian identity.
The Christian is simul iustus et peccator - at once righteous (in Christ) and a sinner (in themselves). To forget one or the other is to wander dangerously from the gospel. The fasts of Lent and Advent help us to remember that we are sinners in need, with no inherent goodness before God. They help us to remember that we still need to put to death the sinful deeds of the earthly nature and to discipline our bodies. Now, this can go horribly wrong. We can attempt to change our behaviour by our own willpower; we can perceive any effort toward change as earning God's favour; we can imagine that discipline is a good in and of itself. But those errors will creep in whenever we try to pursue godliness. They don't detract from the need to remember our sinfulness by nature, and to put to death the sinfulness that still remains.
But to be at once righteous and a sinner is not an equilibrium. It is not as if I am equally well defined by both words - 'righteous' and 'sinner'. My identity in Christ is by far the more fundamental. If I am joined to him by faith, I am righteous. Everything is done for me by him. So, the fasts do not just peter out; they lead to feasts. Because my meditation on my sinfulness and need is meant to drive me to Christ, and to celebrate his work. In Advent I consider the need that I have, and that the world has, for a Saviour - and then I celebrate his coming. In Lent I consider the need I have for a remedy for sin, for redemption, for a new start - and then I celebrate Jesus' death in my place and his resurrection. The church calendar keeps me on the move. It reminds me that the painfully present sin is actually, fundamentally past. It is possible to feast, because knowing my need and emptiness I can turn to Jesus and be filled.
A fast is a witness that what I need is not fundamentally food, but Christ.
A feast is a witness that in Christ I have what I fundamentally need.