This morning we opened the service singings, “O Lord, throughout these forty days You prayed and kept the fast; Inspire repentance four sin and free us from our past.”
Growing up on a farm when someone mentions “a forty”, they are likely talking about an acreage of land as in “That back forty.” Often when someone turns from age 39 to 40, its as if life itself is over; instead of the reality that the years ahead are our most productive years, everything before is preparation.
Biblically, forty is an important number. It rained forty days in the Deluge. Israel wandered through the desert for forty years. Moses fasted forty days before receiving the commandments on Mt Sinai. For forty days Goliath scoffed at Israel’s army before David slung a stone into his forehead. The prophet Elijah, on the run from Jezebel’s threats, fasted forty days before catching sight of Mt. Horeb, where he heard God in a light zephyr. Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to present him in the temple at forty days. The adult Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he fasted days and nights while Satan tested him. During his suffering after his arrest, Jesus endured forty lashes minus one of the flesh tearing whip.
The church picked up on the number forty and set aside a period of forty days to contemplate our fragile humanity, and our failures which turn us away from God and one another. These days were also a time of preparation for baptism, on the Eve of Easter.
The season of Lent is balanced by the forty-day Easter season.
We completed our opening hymn this morning praying in song, “Be with us through this season, Lord, and all our earthly days, that when the final Easter dawns, we join in heaven’s praise.”