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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation to your glory,
hidden through past ages
and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
May the Lord stretch forth the sceptre of your power;
rule from Zion in the midst of your enemies.
‘Noble are you on this day of your birth;
on the holy mountain, from the womb of the dawn
the dew of your new birth is upon you.’
The Lord has sworn and will not retract:
‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?
What does ‘fasting’ mean to you? The practice of fasting has been a significant feature of religious observance for a very, very long time. It was, and is, a regular part of the orthodox Jewish faith, hence the references in today’s reading to the many, including John’s followers, who continued to demonstrate their piety through fasting. For many of us in the twenty-first century, fasting is primarily associated with ‘giving something up’ for Lent, or just dieting. However, within all the mainstream religions that encourage fasting there remains the intention to commemorate something significant or to heighten the experience of prayer. Having said that, in today’s reading, Jesus’ disciples are being criticized because they are not fasting; they are not joining in this overt demonstration of piety.
When challenged on this issue Jesus responds by referring to three things that would have been readily understood by those who were gathered around him. He spoke of a wedding feast, of the repairing of an old cloak, and of how to efficiently store new wine. The three disparate analogies focus on something that is core to Jesus’ earthly ministry … how that which is new demands that we reconsider our attitudes towards the old. Jesus wants us to stop treating the old ways with a reverence that is not their due, and to be genuinely and profoundly excited by the new.
As patches of new cloth shrink and change with age they cause worse damage to the old. As the vitality of new wine finds its balance and true character it will tear and irreparably damage old wine skins. As the new union of bride and bridegroom is celebrated it can never be an appropriate time to fast.
Jesus teaches us throughout his earthly ministry that God’s law should be honoured and respected. However, he also encourages us to challenge and reject that which is rooted in human wisdom. While they were in the presence of Jesus (the bridegroom) it could never be right for the disciples to fast. But, once he had returned to his heavenly Father, then the use of fasting to assist in the focusing of their minds and to help them recall his teaching becomes appropriate once again.
Fasting is a tool we can use to help us enhance our prayer lives. Fasting can help us better understand the plight of those for whom we pray. Fasting should not, though, become an end in itself, it should never stand between us and God.
As we ponder on our own methods of prayer, let us constantly re-examine that which is familiar and comfortable. Let us then seek to discern what God is really asking of us, and let us be open to the new, just as his disciples were as they journeyed with Jesus in this world.
Prayers of intercession
Jesus calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. Washed clean by the waters of baptism, let us pray that we may live the life to which he has called us.
Lord Jesus, eternal Word, proclaimed as the Christ by John the forerunner, hear us as we pray for all who proclaim your word.
Lord Jesus, baptizing with the Spirit and with fire, strengthen us to withstand all the trials of our faith.
Lord Jesus, bringing forgiveness to all who repent, teach your Church dependence on your grace.
Lord Jesus, fulfilment of the promises of old, give hope to all who suffer or are ignored.
Lord Jesus, beloved Son of the Father, anoint us with the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, bringer of hope, share with all the faithful the riches of eternal life.
Lord Jesus Christ, in you the Father makes us and all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory. Amen.
Prayer for the week
To your keeping, O Lord God,
we commend all whose enjoyment of life
has been taken away by sickness,
by tragedy, or by the sin of man.
May your love sustain them in their suffering,
and may your people care for them
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.