Forty days and forty nights…
The gospel reading on the first Sunday in Lent every year is the story of Jesus going into the wilderness and wrestling with his calling to be God’s Son. The story says he was in the wilderness for forty days, and during that time he was tempted to test God, to seek worldly things, to turn aside from God’s call.
The first followers of Jesus decided that it would be a worthwhile thing for them to spend forty days reflecting on their own lives and their own callings to do God’s work. They decided the most appropriate time to do it would be in the lead up to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. And so Lent was born.
Lent is the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve. Excluding Sundays (which weren’t counted as they were always to be treated as days of celebration) that adds up to forty days. It’s a solemn time, a time of self-examination, reflection and repentance.
The idea is that we cannot truly enjoy Easter and the new life of resurrection if we haven’t first acknowledged our shortcomings and considered how we will respond to God’s call to live in that new life. To be blunt, Christians are supposed to spend Lent doing some serious thinking about their lives.
There are different ways of doing it. Some people decide to stop doing something they enjoy or need, like drinking coffee, for the duration of Lent. Others prefer to take up something which requires effort, like reading a spiritual book or volunteering for a charity. Whatever it is we choose to do, or not do, it is meant to be done in a sense of discipline, something that makes us aware of sacrifice and effort.
So how will you choose to mark these forty days? What will you offer to God as you reflect on your frailty and the gracious gift of new life which God has bestowed on you?