Lenten Devotions: Forty

  • February 27, 2014

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 5th. We will be marking Lent on this blog by sharing devotionals written by members and friends of WCUC. You may also wish to pick up a printed booklet of these devotionals at church.  Here’s an introduction by the editor:


There is something in this number.  Noah endured forty days and nights of rain on his life-raft of animal life and humanity.  Moses fasted for forty days and nights while meeting with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:28)  The people of Israel endured forty years of nomadic privations and deferred promises before returning to Canaan.  Elijah walked for forty days and nights to the mountain of the Lord, Sinai (1 Kings 19:8).  After his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus—in the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—went into the desert to fast and be tempted for forty days before beginning his public ministry.

Lent, traditionally the period of forty days before Easter, was practiced in various ways since the early days of the Christian church, likely since the second century.  According to Eusebius, writing to Pope Victor I in 203 CE, there was little agreement on how, and for how long, Lent was observed.  “Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.”  That is, since the time of the disciples.  After Christianity was legalized in 313 CE, the practice of some form of fasting or privation for forty days was widely observed, and by the end of the fourth century, it seems Lent as we know it was established.

Beyond the spiritual significance of forty, what does Lent mean?  Whether our fasting is rigorous—one meal a day to sustain strength was the standard in monastic communities—or a symbolic self-denial, during Lent we surrender part of ourselves to remember how Jesus—and  Elijah, Moses, and Noah—found renewed strength in God through suffering and prayer.  Lent is our release from desire into the life of our risen Lord.