“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry”. Matthew 4:1-2
Why is the period of Lent so important and significant to Christians?
Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter, and is a time of reflection and preparation for Easter. There is great significance with the number 40 in Christian scripture. In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. And of course, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. It is this, Jesus’ time in the wilderness, which is the key event for the duration of Lent, and as Christians we believe that by observing the 40 days of Lent, we replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.
Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion.
The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century, use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent. It is more common nowadays for Christians to give up something such as a favourite food, sweets or chocolate perhaps. Whatever the sacrifice is, it is a reflection of Jesus’ deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.
Just as we set aside time to spiritually prepare for Christmas Day, we also need to set aside time to prepare for two of the most important days of the Christian year. Like Advent, Lent is a time to open the doors to our hearts a little wider, and understand our Lord a little deeper, so that when Good Friday and eventually Easter comes, it is an opportunity to receive and acknowledge the abundance of graces God gives to us.
But unlike the joy associated with the season of Advent, and its eager anticipation of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Lent is a very different time of preparation. It is a time of penitence, when we reflect on all the times when we have hurt God, through our thoughtlessness, and our behaviour. It is an opportunity to think about what our Lord actually did for us, the amazing sacrifice and gift that he gave us when he died for us on the cross. But ultimately, the purpose of Lent is not all about sadness and despair, but points us towards the resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Peter 1:3.
Rev Lansford Penn-Timity.