40 days. It marks the length of rain pounding down on planet earth as the great flood occurred. 40 days also marks the length of time that Christ’s resurrected body was on this earth after the resurrection until Ascension happened. 40 days spans the time when Christ was alone in the wilderness before Satan came and tempted Him. So, when Christians decided to mark a season of penitence before Easter and Holy Week, beginning in 325 AD, the 40 days of Lent were born.
Lent is introspective. It is meant to be. It’s a time to be completely honest with yourself, to think about what your sins have wrought, and to engage in real repentance. Over time, that took on external characteristics such as: refraining from eating fattening foods, extra prayers, and even our mid-week services. The whole idea was: make it real for people. And so with Ash Wednesday, we arrive at this sacred season.
Due to the Passover/Easter arrival in the Spring (northern hemisphere), Lent begins in the dregs of winter. It is usually cold, dark, dank, and people are cranky due to the weather. I’ve noticed over my years that parishioners often can be a bit grumpy then. Tempers are short, people are tired. And so they speak and act accordingly. Lent is really a study in contrasts. And then Easter comes and wipes all that away with joy, lightness of heart, and weather that fosters an uplifted soul.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Lent. I don’t enjoy the weather—unless the groundhog actually brings an early Spring. I don’t really want to delve into my sins overly either. But, I need to. And when I do, I arrive at a more complete understanding of who I am and Who my Savior is. I arrive at the depth of His love for me. His pain paid for my sins. And with that realization my short fuse of temper and negativity is lengthened and resolution of my inner struggles happens—the truth of the resurrection makes it so! Light triumphs over darkness both externally and internally. All this occurs as we plod through those fateful 40 days—not counting Sundays as they aren’t technically considered as penitential as the weekdays.
Although God doesn’t operate by human cycles or human calendars or traditions, and neither does the Church, I find it informative that in our country the end of Lent usually occurs around mid April. April 15th is also a day of “relief” for the average American. That’s tax day. That’s when the hectic, frenetic time of paying bills to Uncle Sam occurs. And it is followed by the serenity of Spring! Likewise, use this Lent to behold the bill you’ve racked up due to your sins and then the light at the end of the empty tomb’s tunnel will shine all the more brightly upon you!
Pastor Thomas H. Fox