by Jane Robinson
Most liturgical churches around the world observe 40 days of Lent to help their members prepare for Easter. Most non-liturgical churches forego Lent, while nonetheless helping members prepare for Resurrection Day in other ways.
Whether you belong to a liturgical or nonliturgical congregation, you may wonder about this question: Why 40? The leaders who began the tradition centuries ago chose the number 40 because it recurs so often in the Bible—quite often as a period of preparation. (Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, is not included in numbering the days on the liturgical calendar from Ash Wednesday to Easter because every Sunday is a “little Easter.”)
Whether or not you observe Lent, why not base your own personal devotions on some of Scripture’s 40-day stories as you prepare for Easter? Or use them with your Sunday school class or as the basis for a pre-Easter sermon series. The stories work well in this season because they often describe 40 days of trial or waiting. Just as often, they end with God’s rescue. So it is with the Lent/Easter season. We use the time of preparation before Easter as a time of repentance, contemplating God’s unfathomable love for us, despite our sins, our rebellion and disobedience. That contemplation ends with the glorious Good News of Jesus’ victory over death for us on Calvary!
Here are some of the biblical accounts you may want to consider:
40 days of flooding rains. Noah, his family, and lots of animals waited in the ark for more than a year as a result of the devastating flood God sent. Yet the Lord provided for them, first giving Noah plans for the ark so that they could float above those waters rather than drown in them, and then, as Genesis 8:1 tells us, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”
40 days on Mount Sinai. God called Moses to the top of the mountain to set in place his covenant with Israel. He would be their God, their King, and they would be his people. There Moses received the Ten Commandments, engraved on tablets of stone. There also, as the people waited below the mountain for Moses to return, the Lord reaffirmed Moses’ position of leadership. As they waited, Israel erected the Golden Calf and worshiped it. Yet Moses pleaded personally with the Lord to forgive the Israelites’ sins, and in covenant-keeping love, God forgave.
40 days of trembling. Israel’s first king, Saul, and his soldiers trembled at Goliath’s taunts. Did the king inevitably face a one-on-one fight with that fearsome giant? No, thank you. David set them straight, “The battle is the Lord’s,” he explained. And it was—as was the victory!
40 days in the desert. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, and although he was fully human and therefore experienced the weakness and hunger any of us would feel, the Holy Spirit sustained him. Armed with the Word of God, our Savior fended off Satan’s temptations, defeating our enemy in our place. Now God counts Jesus’ holy life as each believer’s own!
40 days of surprise visits. In Acts 1:3 Luke describes Jesus’ post-resurrection life: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Jesus wanted his followers to know in their heart of hearts that he had risen. He wanted them to understand the implications of that glorious miracle. He wants us to know, too.
When you stop to consider the scriptural evidence, there’s just something about 40 days. Whether your church observes the 40 days of Lent each spring or not, you may want to ask your Lord how he would have you use the weeks before Easter exploring his deep love for you. He lived a perfect life in your place. He suffered, was crucified and buried—for you. He rose—for you. He will come again—for you, to take you to live with him in eternal Easter joy. That’s something worth thinking about any time of year!
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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