Baptists don’t observe Lent – at least, not as a denomination — so my exposure to the concept and the practice is pretty much limited to our 4 years in Ecuador which is predominately Catholic. From New Year’s Day until Mardi Gras, we dodged water guns and balloons (sometimes unsuccessfully). Rather than having an elaborate parade with expensive costumes, much of Latin America enjoys this (mostly) silly and harmless custom, and tourists are a favorite target. Our vehicle admittedly was pummeled more than we were, thank goodness, but we received our fair share of hurling wetness.
Then came Ash Wednesday, and we passed many people on the streets with gray crosses on their foreheads. From what we learned, those people had been to church that morning where a priest dipped his finger in ashes, then placed a cross on their heads while saying the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The mood was much more somber on that day than on the day before.
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the observance of Lent, which is a 40-day period from that Wednesday until Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) not counting Sundays. Here is an explanation I found this week that reflects what I’ve been taught through the years:
Lent is a penitential period, involving the dual disciplines of abstinence and fasting. During Lent many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain foods, habits or luxuries – for example meat, cakes and sweets, alcohol, smoking – for its duration (the money saved is often then donated to charity). This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Forty is derived from the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness after He was baptized, or others say it represents the number of hours Jesus was in the tomb.
I can recall a number of others places in the Bible where the number 40 was significant: 1) During the flood, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. 2) The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before being allowed to enter the Promise Land. 3) Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai on two different occasions. 4) Spies were sent out to explore Canaan for 40 days. 5) Elijah went without food and water for 40 days on Mount Horeb. etc. etc. etc. In general, the number appears to represent a time of testing or trials.
I don’t know whether or not you plan to “give something up for Lent” this year, but I’ve thought of other “40’s” we might want to consider. We’re only on Day 15 of this year’s Lenten season. There’s still plenty of time.
- Make a list of your 40 greatest blessings from God.
- Do 40 hidden good deeds — ones for which you will not receive public credit.
- Write 40 thank-you notes to people who have gone out of their way to help you recently.
- Give your spouse a list of 40 things you love about him/her.
- Decide on 40 things you love about your church and share them with your pastor and/or Sunday School class.
- Memorize a Bible verse every day for 40 days.
- Spend 40 minutes a day in prayer, remembering to intercede on behalf of our country and its leaders.
Can you think of other “40’s” to suggest?
Have a meaningful Lent, everyone.
And, since this happens to fall on our son’s 42nd birthday, I want to give a shout out to Matt. We hope he has a wonderful day. 🙂