Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both food and festivities, and other illegitimate pleasures.
Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome in Jerusalem.
40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture:
• In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
• The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God.
• Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
• Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. Most Christians regard Jesus’ time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent. In the Philippines, the observance of the 40th day after the death of a loved one is a devotion patterned after the sacred meaning of the biblical “forty” days.
Thus the 40 days of Lent include a period of fasting and abstinence. In the spirit of renewal initiated by recent Popes (Pope Paul VI) strict rules were relaxed. The emphasis was not so much on fasting as on spiritual renewal that the preparation for Easter demanded. Thus according to apostolic constitution Poenitemini (Pope Paul VI, Feb. 17, 1996). “Abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent that do not fall on Holidays of Obligation, and fasting as well as abstinence is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”
More important is that Lent is used for fasting from sin and from vice, forsaking sinful ways. It is a propitious season for penance and conversion to God, and renewal of his heart.
A very good Lenten symbol which we do not pay as much attention is the rainbow! It is the covenant of Noah. It speaks of moral life, respecting the sovereignty of God, and the natural order of creation. The covenant of the rainbow contains the call of Jesus. As Christians we are baptized into the death of Christ, emerging from the water into his risen life. The New Testament writers saw Noah’s ark emerging from the flood as a prototype of salvation.
Mark presents this truth in stark simplicity. Jesus, coming newly from the desert where the voice of John has been silenced, utters a declaration, a promise and a call.
The declaration is that the time is now, a life of fulfillment, of vindication, of power. The promise is that God’s own rule in human society is at hand. It is the same promise in the covenant of the rainbow – God is faithful, God can work in harmony by the Creator’s laws. But there is a call – Jesus asks for repentance. It means a life in a harmonious relationship with God and with others, a willingness to change one’s mind and perception and behavior. He also asks for faith in the Good News, and live a gospel life – everyday!