Why 40 Days of Lent?
The Lenten season includes 40 days of fasting (46 days minus Sundays) in preparation for the celebration of Easter. While a proper food fast is only obligatory on certain days, other goods (such as sweets) are often given up as well. In this way, we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at the end of His earthly ministry by walking with Him in a special way through the beginning of His earthly ministry (which began with His 40 day fast in the desert).
But why 40 days – why not make it an even 4 weeks or something easier to track on the modern calendar?
The number 40 actually appears all throughout Sacred Scripture, often describing a time of preparation for a creative work of God.
The Lord flooded the world for 40 days and nights when he re-created life on Earth. In preparation for the creation of the Nation of Israel, Moses spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in the desert, 40 days on Mt. Sinai receiving the Old Covenant (the Ten Commandments), and 40 years wandering in the desert before God planted the nation of Israel its own land.
When it came time to create a New Covenant Nation of people, Jesus spent 40 days fasting to begin His ministry. During this time, He fasted while enduring the kinds of trials we all face without sinning. Then there was another 40 day period at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry – between His resurrection and ascension. Significantly, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed 40 years later (just as Jesus predicted) – decisively ending the Old Covenant system and replacing it with the new, better, covenant.
Lent is a time of prayer (not recreation!), fasting (not dieting!), and giving (not savings!) because it is a time for us to allow God to “recreate” ourselves with His grace.