Why do we "Lent"?
Lent, from the Old-English lente “springtime,” is a church season when we fast and remember Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the wilderness. Since the middle ages different tradition each have their own way of counting days, and observing the fast. For Presbyterians, the 6 Sundays are not counted as fasting days. So, from Ash Wednesday it’s really 46 days to Easter but still considered “40 days of fasting.”
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Gospels declare that the heavens opened up and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a Dove and the voice of God said, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Do you remember that? Do you know what happens right after this? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that the very next thing that happened was that the Spirit of God then led Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the Devil.
We often forget that between Jesus’ baptism and the calling of the first disciples is this harrowing 40 days. What was the purpose for the Spirit doing this to Jesus? Perhaps Jesus really needed to be sure this is what God, the Father, wanted. Perhaps, Jesus was trying to answer “why me”? Or perhaps it was God preparing Jesus for his ultimate death by crucifixion. Whatever the reason, when Jesus returns after 40 days, tired, dirty, and full of purpose we see his first disciples readily leave all they have and follow him.
What if after you became a member of a church you were exiled to the wilderness for 40 days to see if your faith was strong enough to resist the devil? “You’ve got to be kidding right?” No one could expect that, because no one could withstand what Jesus did. But I think that is just the point. We frail and weak humans cannot endure what Jesus endured, we cannot save ourselves. We need Jesus.
Lent is a season of fasting, reflection, and repentance. If we do not realize the extent to which Jesus suffered for our sake, we fail to grasp the power and importance of that suffering. Jesus didn’t just suffer for his own sake, he suffered for my sake and for your sake. Before Easter, I hope each of us can take a few-weeks of self-denial to confess how far we have strayed from God, and humbly ask for forgiveness. Lent is an opportunity for us to be reminded that though this life be marked by suffering, we have a compassionate God who knows our pain and endured it all, even death on a cross, so that we might receive the gift of true life.