Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
- Luke 4:1
The number 40 comes up in the Bible quite a few times, starting with the 40 days of rain in the time of Noah and the 40 years of wandering in the desert under Moses, all the way up to the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert to start his ministry. Always, the number 40 signifies “a long time” combined with “a time of trial.” Perhaps the number 40 derives from the number of weeks of a woman’s pregnancy - a time of waiting, often of hardship, and full of promise.
Lent is the 40 days before Easter (excepting Sundays, which Christians have always treated as feast days). For over 1800 years Christians have been observing Lent, intentionally choosing into practices to help them refocus on what’s most important. The purpose is that by Easter, after taking stock of our lives and practicing spiritual rhythms, that we would experience new life in Christ along with the celebration of the resurrection.
Often Lent is associated with giving something up, like chocolate or Facebook. That can be a good thing, but it’s even better if that ‘giving up’ is part of a practice of connecting to God and neighbor. To see Lent as a season pregnant with hope and longing, and to build in daily rhythms to help nurture that hope and longing - that’s the real gift of this season. Take time today to pray about what specific, daily practices you might employ this season to connect more deeply with God and neighbor. Specifically ask, “God, are there things that, by giving them up for a season or by taking them up for a season, I would flourish more in the long run?”
A closing thought: “I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.” - Walter Brueggemann