February 17th marks the end of the Season of Epiphany and the beginning of the Season of Lent in the church. This season begins with Ash Wednesday which sets the tone for a time of confession and striving to find solidarity with Christ’s suffering on the cross.
Lent is the oldest of the seasons on the Christian calendar and truly goes back to ancient times. It lasts six weeks until Easter. It is forty days long but does not include Sundays. This is because while Lent is to be used to introspectively evaluate one’s self with an eye to one’s inadequacy and sin, every Sunday is to be thought of as a “mini-Easter”; a time of unbridled joy.
The six weeks of Lent are modeled on the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism during which he was tempted by Satan. The number 40 is also a recurring number in the bible with great spiritual significance:
Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai with God. Elijah spent 40 days walking to Mount Horeb. The rains that flooded the earth in the story of Noah lasted 40 days. The Hebrew people wandered the desert for 40 years on their way to the promised land. Jonah give the city of Nineveh 40 days to repent or face destruction by God. And it is the traditional belief that Jesus lay for 40 hours in the tomb before his resurrection.
The culmination of Lent is Holy Week which begins with Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday’s remembrance of the Last Supper, Good Friday’s remembrance of the crucifixion of Christ, Holy Saturday’s vigil at the tomb of Christ, and Easter Sunday’s welcome of the resurrection.
During Lent, people traditionally give up things that inhibit their connection to God; in keeping with Jesus time in the wilderness during which he fasted for 40 days. This is often indulgences of one kind or another, but ultimately the season of Lent is a time to acknowledge our imperfection, admit our need for God, draw close to Christ, and renew that divine companionship; especially in times of suffering.
This year of so many challenges, I hope you will take full advantage of this annual time of faith formation and renewal.