But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Luke 4:1-2)
Historically, Lent was a forty-day period when new converts to the Christian faith would fast and pray, and prepare for their baptisms, an event that would usually take place on the day of resurrection. New believers would spend time in reflection and contemplation on their union with Christ in His crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
During this Lenten season, as we spend time in fasting and reflection, the Bible encourages us to prepare ourselves. This preparation is not limited to inward sanctification alone. It encompasses our outward countenance too – “put oil on your head and wash your face.”
What is more crucial here is the “invisibility” of our fasting. The gospel of Mark mentions about Jesus’ quiet withdrawal into solitary places for prayer (Mark 1:35): Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
These quiet withdrawals that Jesus undertook were times of seeking connection and intimacy with the Father. These moments prepared him for the day’s hectic assignments and tasks. Jesus did the same at the Garden of Gethsemane before embracing the passion at the Cross.
The period of Lent is an opportunity to prepare and identify ourselves with the passion, suffering, and death of our Lord. Such a preparation not only takes place in corporate prayer with a fellowship of believers, but, more profoundly, in the “invisibility” and secrecy of the inner room. For in those private spaces, we converse with the One who is invisible. When we enter our private space with oil on our head, the Lord anoints us for His tasks; our washed faces emit the radiance of divine intimacy when we walk out (Exodus 34:35). There in that inner room the Lord promises to meet us.
Lord, so oft I come to Thee, Weighed by burden on my knee, Seeking solace and tranquillity, For I know there is rest in Thee. Soon Your presence fills my heart, Beckoning me from this world apart, Embracing my burdens in a divine exchange, Yours on mine and mine on Thee.
Rev. Abhishek John