The 40 Days of Lent

From Rev Peter Beale


(Published in News First, March 2004 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church) 


As we enter the Season of Lent once again and prepare ourselves for the events of Jesus' Passion, death and resurrection, it is good to remind ourselves of the usefulness of observing Lent as part of our discipleship each year. I found the following paragraphs from the Seasons of the Spirit resources quite instructive:

The Season of Lent is 40 days traditionally marked with fasting, prayer, and repentance. Lent is part of the rich history of the Christian church, dating back to the third century CE. In fact, our observance of Lent even pre-dates the observance of Christmas.

At first the Lenten observance was only a 40-hour fast for catechumens before their baptisms on Easter, to coincide with the belief that Jesus spent 40 hours in the tomb. Over the years, it was expanded to include all the faithful and was lengthened in duration. The church finally settled on a 40-day Lenten fast, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding the Saturday before Easter. (Sundays are not included in the count, as each Sunday is a little Easter, a weekly reminder of the Resurrection.)

The number 40 was chosen for its significance in the Bible, most notably that Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. Today, few Christians observe a fast for 40 days. Rather, Lent has become a period of introspection and self-evaluation. Other traditional Lenten disciplines include prayer and almsgiving. Often, people will "give up something" for Lent. With its emphasis on repentance, Lent's liturgical colour is purple.

Some have likened Lent to a Wilderness time," recalling other biblical wanderings and times of trial and repentance: the 40 days and nights of rain that destroyed all the earth but Noah and his family and the animals in the ark; the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; the 40 days Moses spent fasting on the mountain before he received the Law.

Yet wilderness times can be wonderful, positive times as well: the time the Israelites wandered in the wilderness formed them as a nation, the 40-day journey of Elijah to Mount Horeb, where he honestly sought God's presence, and discovered his calling. It was in the wilderness where Hagar found spiritual renewal, where John baptized, and where Jesus fed the multitudes.

It is important to note that Jesus, after 40 days in the wilderness, found enough strength in his faith to fend off the temptations quite effortlessly. Thus, Lent can be a time, not just of grief and brow-beating, but a time of growing profoundly in our faith, strengthened by assurance of God's presence, which empowers us to face the truth of Good Friday, and then rejoice in the glory of Easter.

Lent offers us the opportunity to slow down, enter our own "wilderness" to reflect, pray, and return to God.

I know so many of us will find it hard to stop, and enter a time or place of wilderness, because life is lived at such a frantic pace these days. Technology, instead of giving us more leisure time, has meant that we achieve things more efficiently, but work longer hours since work can follow us around wherever we go.

In our busy lives it is all the more important to stop and find the time for prayer and reflection. This year is a pivotal year in the life of our Cluster* as we contemplate new possibilities within the Western Mission Area, a new worship centre in Sutton St Warragul, and the search for a new minister.

See if you can find 40 minutes a day or as a bare minimum, each week to find that wilderness time, for yours, and the Cluster's sake.

[Cluster*   The grouping of the four Uniting Churches in our area, located in Warragul, Drouin, Darnum and Ellinbank.]