Lent is the season of the Church year that begins with Ash Wednesday and takes us to Easter. It is 40 days long, which symbolizes both the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness and the 40 days when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Lent’s connection to those two stories is a good signpost to help us understand the character of the season.
When Israel wandered in the wilderness, it was a time of purification and preparation. It was in the wilderness that the people were made ready to follow God’s law and be examples of holiness in the promised land. Jesus’ wilderness time likewise was a time of preparation. He goes out right after he is baptized and, while in the wilderness, he is tempted with comfort, safety, and earthly authority. He choses instead his God-ordained role as the Messiah, which will lead him to the cross. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he begins his ministry.
Both of these stories are about identity. Israel must choose to be the people who follow God’s law. Jesus must choose the role of the suffering servant in order to save humanity from their sins.
Lent is the wilderness time for the modern disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a time when we intensify our struggle against sin and remember who we are at the deepest level. The practice of giving up certain luxuries during Lent is like a sort of spiritual training. We get rid of things and habits that distract us so that we can focus more on God, and so that we can have more to share with the poor and needy.
Lent can be seen as dreary or somber, but in reality it is a time of great honesty. No matter how good our intentions, we can become distracted by the things of life. Lent gives us a yearly opportunity to remember what is most important: our relationship, not with things, but with God and with each other.
Finally, you might notice if you look at a calendar that lent is longer than 40 days. This is because Sundays are not included in the seasons of Lent. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection and a feast day in the Church, even during Lent.
May this season be a time of great honesty, peace, reflection, and prayer, and may you come each day to know yourself more fully as a beloved child of God.