Forty Days . . . And Then What?
Eight times in the Bible, the period of 40 days is mentioned.
The first reference pertains to our Old Testament reading for this Sunday — Genesis 9. Genesis 9 is the end of the flood, where God makes his covenant to never again destroy the earth by water. The sign of that covenant, of course, is the rainbow. How long did it take for God to destroy the earth with water in Noah’s time? 40 days.
In Exodus 24, Moses is on the mountain with God — receiving the Ten Commandments— for 40 days.
In Numbers 13, spies are in the promised land scoping things out for 40 days before the beginning of the conquest of the land.
For 40 days the Extra Large Philistine, Goliath, taunts the Israelites in 1 Samuel 17. Then a young (not yet) King David shows up and asks the profound question, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the Living God?” Shortly thereafter, Goliath lies dead as a result of one stone in David’s slingshot.
The final Old Testament references to the 40-day period are pretty obscure. If you know these, you should be playing Bible trivia games and winning the payout! In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is at Mt. Horeb for 40 days after fleeing the evil Jezebel. And in Ezekiel 4, Ezekiel’s punishment for the nation of Judah lasts 40 days, with each day representing a year of disobedience.
Thankfully, the New Testament contains the last two citations, both figuring prominently in the Gospel story Our Lord’s Temptation — mentioned only briefly in this Sunday’s Gospel reading in Mark — is 40 days. It is these 40 days that are represented in the liturgical Season of Lent. Our Lord’s temptation prepared him for beginning his earthly ministry: Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). The 40 days of Lent prepare us to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection (a celebration that will also last 40 days).
During Lent, many things look different in the life of the Church. Crosses in the church and chapel are covered. The banner on the gospel side of the sanctuary is removed. The altar is veiled. The liturgical color is purple, symbolizing penitence.
The liturgy is different, too. We will pray through The Great Litany. We will refrain from saying “Alleluia” at the customary times (if you hear someone saying “Alleluia,” tell them to contribute a dollar to their Mite Can; if you hear a priest say it, he should contribute $10). The General Confession is transposed to the beginning of the liturgy with the Sermon, Creed, and prayers to follow. Stations of the Cross will be offered on Friday evenings from 5:30 – 6:00 pm in the Church.
The Book of Common Prayer prescribes other disciplines for Lent. We fast from food today, Ash Wednesday, and also on Good Friday. Fr. Doran recommends a “Phone Phast” — turning off your phone for a full day each week. Fr. Kraft recommends a “News Fast” — not watching, reading, or listening to the news. Many folks fast from alcohol or sweets.
The Book of Common Prayer also suggests Sacramental Confession. Clergy will be in the Chapel every Saturday afternoon from 4:00 – 5:00 pm to hear your confession and offer absolution. If you have never experienced the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), this is a perfect time to start!
I recommend not only fasting — but adding disciplines to your life. If you have never been in the habit of daily Bible reading, why not try that for this year’s 40 days of Lent? If you don’t know what to read, try the Daily Office — you can do it by yourself, with members of your household, or in St. Michael’s Chapel at 8:30 am and 5:30 pm Monday through Friday. The Daily Office can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, and yes, there’s even apps for that! If you aren’t sure how to pray through it, ask someone! If you don’t know whom to ask, I’m happy to help.
The 40 “fast” days of Lent are not consecutive; your fasting can (and should) pause on Sundays. Because of our Lord’s Resurrection, Sundays are always considered Feast Days, even during Lent.
Most of the 40-day periods in Holy Scripture have a positive ending. The rain stops (Genesis), leading to a promise from God to never destroy the earth again by water. The Law is given, providing guidance for God’s people who have been enslaved for generations (Exodus). Goliath is dead, the first of many military victories for David, which eventually leads to peace in the land (1 Samuel).
And after 40 days of temptation, our Lord proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” Further, in John 6:29, Christ reveals, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
May this Lent be a holy one at St. Michael’s — a time of repentance and renewed belief!
This article was written by parishioner Ben Conarroe.