We are now in the season of Lent, those 40 days (not counting Sundays which are mini-Easters) of preparation for Easter. I pray that we don’t rush through the days this year. Rather, let us slow down and take this time seriously. Some of us have given something up for Lent as is tradition. What does it mean to us to give up chocolate or social media? And what does that have to do with preparation for Easter?
Let’s start by considering these 40 days. Forty days (or days and nights) occur a number of places in both the Old and New Testaments. It rained for 40 days and nights when Noah and his family floated on the ark with all those animals. The Hebrew people wandered in the desert for 40 years before tripping over the Promised Land, a trip that would have only taken 11 days if they had walked in a straight line. Then Moses spends 40 days and nights fasting on the mountain with God to receive the Ten Commandments. Elijah traveled 40 days and nights to reach Horeb, the mountain of God. Jonah’s warning to Nineveh was a 40-day notice until the city would be destroyed if the people did not repent. Jesus fasts for 40 days and nights while in the desert. These are just the best known references to 40 days or years.
What is striking to me about each of these references is that each seems to be some sort of preparation time. They are times for reflection and drawing closer to God. Each is a special time set apart to prepare for what is to come. Even what seems like a punishment in the flood gives a time for reflection and preparation for the new birth or new building that will come. Equally striking (with the exception of Jesus’ time in the desert) is that each event includes flawed humans messing it up. Noah and his crew go back to the old ways almost as fast as they get off the boat. Moses comes off the mountain to find the people have made a golden calf to worship. Elijah requires three tries before he notices that God is in the silence. Rather than celebrating, Jonah is ticked off that Nineveh repents. And the wandering of the Hebrew people in the desert is only a brief piece of the story of their shortcomings. And yet…God never stops providing opportunities for God’s people to try again.
I suspect that is why we have and need Lent…and need it every year. We need this time for self-reflection. We need time to identify our idols and tear them down. We need a time set aside for the expressed purpose of drawing closer to God. We need time to make a journey that will open us to the voice of God in the silence. We need a time for returning to what it means to be Christian…to love God and neighbor…to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We need time to repent of the ways in which we have failed because, yes, we need yet another do-over. We need time to confess our failures of the last year, not to beat ourselves up but, to prepare to do better in the coming year. And we need time to reflect on the depth of love that sacrifices everything for us.
I pray that you find meaning, even deep meaning, in your Lenten journey this year.