Lent has begun. The season that prepares us for the recognition and celebration of the resurrection began with Wednesday. Lent has 40 days in the season, not including Sundays. The 40 days of Lent resonates with the many times “40” shows up in the Bible as a significant number:
· 40 days and 40 nights of the great flood in Genesis;
· The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness in Exodus;
· the 40 days of Jesus’ testing in the desert;
· the 40 days spent by Moses on Sinai, again in Exodus,
to name a few examples.
Often that number ‘40’ is the number connected with the idea of testing or preparation. So, in Lent we recall Jesus’ testing or fasting in the desert which came immediately after his baptism as recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Because of the Gospel of John’s theological understanding related to the nature and identity of Jesus, there is no story of testing or preparation. So we understand that Lent is a time of preparation for ourselves.
Many people have traditionally made a decision to fast in Lent as a sign of faith in Jesus. This is a good outward sign of preparation. However, if it does not reflect an inward change as well, then it is what Jesus warned against in his sermon on the mount: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1a. This is part of the readings for Ash Wednesday. It was very common in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours, for people to “show off” their religion to others. Many people find it gratifying to show their faith by outward signs, clothes, jewelry, behaviors, trumpeting their morality against (always, it seems, against) others, attending church, praying, giving money, fasting, etc. Perhaps for some they think if you don’t get any recognition for your “sacrifice” what is it worth? Jesus’ answer is that it is worth nothing: “you have no reward from your Father in heaven” Matthew 6:1b. The assumption here is that it is for show and effect rather than affect.
Lent is a time of affecting us; a time to learn and practice more of justice, compassion, and courage in faith. Lent is a time of honest examination of your strengths and struggles in your life in Christ. Lent is a time of profound forgiveness to each of us and a time of new beginnings which is fully revealed in the resurrection. Lent is a time to spend in the spiritual desert of our own souls, examining our motives and behaviors and with prayer and faith come to the same conclusion as Jesus after his grilling, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10b.
Pastor Jeff Blackman