Easter is a time of renewal and hope—the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His victory over the grave. In some Christian faiths, believers prepare themselves spiritually by observing a period of fasting and penitence called Lent. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes mistakenly called the Mormon Church, I did not participate in Lent, but I had friends of other faiths who did. I often heard them talking about what they were giving up for Lent.
According to Wikipedia, Lent is “the period of 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter.” According to Wikipedia, the length of Lent commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness and where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Lent is a time of preparation through prayer, fasting, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial, according to the site. Often, believers give up a luxury or vice during this time.
Although members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t observe Lent, the traditions of Lent are similar in nature to a monthly Mormon observance called “Fast Sunday.” Fast Sunday is usually the first Sunday of each month, unless other church-wide or regional meetings are scheduled. In that case, Fast Sunday is either the Sunday before or after. This Sunday is also a time of prayer, fasting, repentance and almsgiving.
Fast Sunday, as the name connotes, is a time of fasting. In the LDS Church, members usually abstain from food and drink for two full meals. Fasting is a way to humble ourselves before the Lord and purify, or chasten, our hearts. Psalms 35:13 says, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” Psalms 69:10 reads, “I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting.”
In the scriptures, fasting is rarely mentioned without prayer. When members fast, they prepare themselves to commune with God through prayer. Daniel 9:3 reads, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” In the LDS Church, members are taught to fast with a purpose, and to begin with a prayer, asking for guidance and help. During the fast, in “sackcloth and ashes”—in other words, in humility— members prayerfully ponder and study their scriptures and the words of the prophets. It is also a time to repent and seek to do better, to recommit oneself to the Lord. These acts of humility allow our hearts to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the answers we are seeking.
Last Fast Sunday, the members of my family (the ones who are old enough to do so) fasted for my 8-year-old daughter regarding some health concerns. She was sick, so she and I stayed home from church. Her health issues had been going on for years but were so subtle that I missed the signs. My friend texted me later that day and asked why I had missed church. I told her my daughter was sick. She asked what her symptoms were, and I told her. She told me it sounded like something she had when she was my daughter’s age. She explained it to me. I searched online for more information and then took my daughter back to the doctor, who gave her some much-needed medicine for temporary relief. I had a follow-up visit two weeks later with our family doctor, who scheduled lab work and tests to find out exactly what needs to be done for her. We are in the middle of that process now. My friend’s text and subsequent information was the answer to our prayers. The Lord does not always answer as quickly as He did that day, but He always answers our sincere prayers.
On Fast Sunday, members of the Church donate the money that would have been spent on meals to the Church. This donation is called Fast Offering, and the money is used to care for the needy both locally and around the world. The Savior teaches, in Luke 11:41, to “give alms of such things as ye have.” In Matthew 19:21, He teaches: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” As part of the baptismal and temple covenants, LDS Church members promise to give of their resources to help others, especially those in need.
In the LDS Church, sacrament meeting has special significance on Fast Day. First, members partake of the sacrament, “an ordinance in which Church members partake of bread and water in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice. This ordinance is an essential part of worship and spiritual development. Through this ordinance, Church members renew the covenants they made with God when they were baptized,” according to lds.org.
In the Mormon Church, another component of Fast Day is the bearing of testimonies, which comprise the remainder of the sacrament meeting. Members, as they feel prompted by the Holy Spirit, stand before the congregation and share their feelings of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His restored gospel. They sometimes share short experiences that have strengthened their faith.
Similar to Lent, Fast Sunday is a time for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to prepare themselves spiritually as well as to increase their faith and commitment to the Savior, Jesus Christ. At Easter, all Christians would be wise to spiritually prepare themselves to celebrate the greatest victory known to man—the resurrection of our Lord. If we will do this, our Easter celebrations will become more sacred and meaningful in our lives.
This article was written by Lisa Montague, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.