Lent is a ceremonial observance that starts on Ash Wednesday and launches the 40 days of repentance, denial of self, and spiritual maturity that we know as the Season of Lent. The significance of the Lenten Season is important to everyone who is Christian because it promotes focus and time to reflect on Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross. The focus of the Lenten Season is on sincere meditation and observance of the suffering and the sacrifice that Jesus went through for us. In the Old Testament, the Israelites used a visually symbolic practice of using ashes on top of their heads and covering their bodies in order to show repentance and mourning. They did this for 40 days. As Christians today, our visible symbol is the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead.
The number 40 has great significance in the Bible. It is associated with phenomenal events such as: the great temptation experienced by Christ when He spent 40 days and 40 nights meditating and fasting in the wilderness. There was a forty day period from His resurrection to His ascension (Book of Acts). Also, in the Old Testament, this number is associated with the Exodus where God let the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their disobedience and their unbelief in Him. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain with God, and then came down with the Commandments. During the great flood, it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Spies were sent by Joshua to the land of Canaan where they stayed 40 days. Elijah traveled for 40 days to meet God at Mt. Sinai, and the Giant, Goliath, intimidated the Israelites for 40 days until David defeated him.
Although the Bible gives us no explanation of the use the number 40 or the distinctiveness of this particular time frame, the Israelites viewed 40 days as a period of probation and chastisement. If we take it in this frame, we must know that the most important thing during this Season of Lent is to focus on repentance of our sins and consecrating ourselves to God.
Even though the season of Lent is not a biblical command, it is a deeply spiritual practice that identifies us as willing Christians. It is not just an annual church practice. If you received ashes on your forehead in the form of a cross, it tells the world that you proclaim Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and our hearts are open and willing to embrace a holy, spiritual renewal that can only come through Him. Because He paid the price for our sins on the Cross and redeemed us with His blood, the least we can do is observe Him through love and repentance for forty days.
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell