40 Days and 40 Nights

by | Mar 7, 2019

Jesus said, ‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:1

The season of Lent is a fixed period of time, counting backward from Easter Sunday to mark its beginning, always on a Wednesday. The forty days are patterned after the great biblical rhythms of forty–the forty years the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness before entering the promised land and the forty days Jesus spent in his own wilderness of prayer, fasting and preparation for his public.

Forty is a symbolic number, signifying a long time. If we decide to do anything for forty days, we’ll have to recommit to that decision more than once, regardless of how we feel. Yet forty days isn’t forever. Lent is a long enough period of time to get our attention, but not so long that we can’t see past it.

On Ash Wednesday, we’re reminded that our bodies come from the earth and will one day return there, while our soul’s true home is with God. Thus we are encouraged to spend this time in intentional relationship with Christ, “the exact imprint of God’s very being who sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)

The Scripture passage that inaugurates Lent comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus’ encourages his disciples in three foundational practices: generosity, prayer, and self-denial. But what mattered most to Jesus was that they do these things in secret; in other words, not for others, but for ourselves, and as a way to draw closer to God.  

The gift of Lent is the invitation to authenticity and an investment in spiritual depth. Thus it matters less what we do or don’t do in Lent than the spirit with which we engage this time, for its disciplines are not for show, but for our spiritual growth.

While the tone of our worship tends toward the somber in Lent, it is not meant to be a burdensome time, but rather a gift. May it be so for us all, a holy reminder that whatever God wants from us pales in comparison to what God longs for us.