But what about the length of Lent? Why not three weeks? Or six months? What's so special about 40 days?
The word “lent” simply means "spring," and derives from the Germanic root word for “long,” because, in spring, the days begin to get longer. For some of us, Lent starts when we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (which are made from palms used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday) to remind us that it is a time for repentance and humility, as in the scriptural phrase: "Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return." Lent is a time when we should remember and anticipate the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us, while we prepare for the great joy we feel at His resurrection and rebirth at Easter. The quick answer to my question concerning the whole 40 day thing is that Jesus spent 40 days fasting and battling satan, who tried to tempt him into choosing a life of power and success instead of the self-sacrificing path he ultimately took with us in mind. Go back further into the Old Testament, and the 40s really fly. For instance, Noah and his family floated through a rain storm that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Moses spent 40 days up on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments from a talking bush. And the Israelites wandered around the desert for a whopping 40 years, which would be an exceedingly long time to go without chocolate chip cookies or ice cream sundaes.
What all these 40-something events had in common was that they were the more-than-challenging preludes for something new, some sort of rebirth, that would change the world.
We were visiting my sister and her family during the first few days of Lent, and talked about the interesting coincidence of so many 40-esque happenings leading up to so many wonderful new things. Finally, one of us went online to see if we had missed any.
In the midst of those great, glorious stories about arks and Israelites and a Son and a Savior, was a reminder of one other tiny tale about new life and great joy.
Because here's the thing: It takes just about 40 weeks for a human baby to grow in his mother's womb. 40 weeks to be born. 40 weeks to begin to change the world.
Gee, it's almost like someone planned it that way.