The season of Lent is a solemn time in the liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for the next six weeks until we approach Easter Sunday. It’s a forty day period of time, counting just the Monday-Saturday’s, since it’s assumed our faith communities will be gathering for worship on Sunday’s and provide additional Lenten focus for the soul. The traditional purpose of Lent is for the devout believer to take this time to be single-minded and heartfelt in commemorating the sacrificial suffering of Jesus on the cross. Therefore, the preparation of the soul for Holy Week includes disciplines such as prayer, repentance of sins, self-denial, and generosity. Many Christians today celebrate Lent as a part of their denomination, local church, or small group.
Why forty days? There were many times when God’s people waited forty days or forty years for God’s will to be accomplished. In the Old Testament, Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18); Elijah spent forty days and nights walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); Noah and his family were spared in the great flood that lasted forty days and nights (Genesis 7:4); Jonah gave his prophecy of judgment to the city of Ninevah which was forty days in which to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4); and the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness forty years while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33).
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, where he both fasted and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–2, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–2). He overcame all three of Satan’s temptations by citing Scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and He began His ministry. Jesus further said that His disciples should fast “when the bridegroom shall be taken from them” (Matthew 9:15), long considered a reference to his Passion. It is also the traditional belief that Jesus lay in the tomb for forty hours before rising from the dead and leaving his grave clothes behind for his followers to discover. With forty days of preparation, Lent has great significance to many historical events in the life of the Church.
Lent comes to its pinnacle during Holy Week, when we remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. During this week we begin on Palm Sunday, when the crowds worshiped him as he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We witness afresh the meaning of Maundy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and humbly washed the feet of his disciples. From there we enter Good Friday, when the crowds have turned against him and demanded his crucifixion. We watch once more the beatings, whippings, anguish, and torment from his accusers, with the penultimate sacrifice of his nail-pierced hands and feet on the cross at Calvary. But, the drama doesn’t end there with the darkness of death. We are led to the empty tomb, and into the bright light of joy-filled Resurrection Day.
During Lent many will abstain from some kind of “luxury” such as sweets, or meat, or travel, or any other self-indulgence that keeps one from remembering the awful curse of the cross. Others will add to their lifestyles some additional expression of devotion to Christ, such as a daily reader, additional attendance at worship gatherings, volunteering services to those in need, noticing or emphasizing a particular practice, or joining a group studying a Lenten topic. Still others will choose to become more generous during Lent, sending cards, gifts, and tokens of affection to loved ones, or making financial offerings anonymously to those in need. Whatever you choose to do is up to you, for each option is merely an invitation not a requirement. It’s perfectly fine to not delete, add, or multiply anything new during this season. What’s most important is ensuring your heart is intentionally attentive to the gifts that Jesus has given by way of his ultimate sacrifice on the cross: forgiveness of sins, fullness of blessings in this life, and a forever home awaiting you in heaven.
For the next forty days, we will travel this well-worn pathway once more. This time, let me invite you to consider Jesus’ “outstretched arms of love” toward all who followed him as disciples, seeking to emulate his life, self-sacrifice, and humble service to others. We will review and reflect upon forty distinct times and ways Jesus stretched out his arms of love to all who beheld his glory, believed his message, belonged as his disciples, and sought to became more and more like his image…to become more of their true identity in Christ Alone.
What will be your choice this Lenten season, when for forty days we will all join our hearts in unison devotion, anticipating once more the celebration of the Risen Christ? May the journey ahead be good for your soul.