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Tough Questions: What is Lent?

Dates & Seasons

“It is no coincidence that the season of Lent lasts for forty days,” says The Rev’d Charlie Lacey from The Parish of Springfield

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Lent is a period of forty days (excluding Sundays) that runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Whilst you won’t find any mention of Lent or its observation in the Bible, the season of Lent, which has been observed by Christians since the 4th century, was founded on deeply Biblical principles.

Forty is a significant number in the Bible and one that is usually associated with trial, testing, prayer and fasting. In the book of Genesis, God sent rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. When Moses received the ten commandments, he stayed with the Lord on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, during which time he fasted. From Mount Sinai, the Israelites were meant to go directly to the promised land and take possession of it. However, due to their lack of faith and rebellion against God, they first endured forty years of wilderness wanderings in the Sinai desert. At the age of about thirty, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, after which he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted (or tested) by the devil for forty days. During that period Jesus fasted.

In each of the examples above, the challenging period of forty days, or years, served as a time of preparation and spiritual growth. Noah and his family learned to trust and obey God; on the mountain, Moses was prepared for the task of leading God’s people, who were brought to a point of obedience during their sojourn in the desert (albeit their obedience was short lived); and, Jesus was prepared for his time of public ministry, which ultimately led to his sacrificial death on a cross and subsequent resurrection.

It is no coincidence that the season of Lent lasts for forty days. It has echoes of all the aforementioned events in the story of God’s people, but most of all, it has echoes of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness: praying, fasting and battling the temptations of the devil.

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, penitence and resolving to follow Christ wholeheartedly, as we prepare to celebrate the victory of his death and resurrection and behold these events with fresh eyes. It is a time to identify the things that are getting in the way of our relationship with the Lord, in order that we might deal with them.

As we approach the season of Lent, let us not focus on arbitrary sacrifices such as forgoing chocolate, coffee or red meat. Instead, let us give up, or take up, attitudes and habits that will help us draw nearer to Jesus. As Jesus battled temptation in the wilderness, let us, through prayer and fasting, battle the sin and apathy in our lives.

Lent should be a time of preparation and spiritual growth; a catalyst for positive and permanent change and transformation, brought about through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

First published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website in February 2023.

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