Forty in the Bible is a number representing completeness or a sufficient amount of time for whatever needs to be done to be accomplished.
For forty days and forty nights it rained in the flood story in Genesis. For forty years the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness after the exodus. Moses was on the mountain with God forty days receiving the commandments, while the Israelites waited those same forty days for him to return.
It's worth noting that it didn't take anywhere close to forty years for the Hebrew people to complain about their conditions in the wilderness or anywhere close to forty days for them to turn to idols while Moses was on the mountain with God. We're on the fifth day of this year's forty-day season of Lent and I, for one, have complained too much and turned away from my idols too infrequently. It's good there is still time to complete this year's penitence and repentance.
Our forty-day season is most closely tied to the forty days that Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness right after his baptism. Mark doesn't give us much to work with (which might be part of the reason Derrick and I both preached from other texts yesterday). Here's the entirety of Mark's account: And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him (Mark 1:12-13).
There's room for many details to be added. Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) give us more details, but still there's plenty left the imagination. Mark boils it down to this: Jesus was out there contending with Satan, living among wild beasts, and being cared for by angels.
That might not be exactly how you'd describe your Lent, but it may be closer than first blush. If we take these days seriously, we're going to be more aware of how often we are tempted to serve ourselves or think or speak poorly of others or worship something other than God. We might be tempted to think Christ's death is an exclusive, minimalist act, not one offered for all (see Rev. Cattenhead's sermon). We might limit our prayers to God to words so sanitized that God wouldn't know any more about the real us than if we didn't pray at all (see my sermon). We might make this season so anodyne as to make Satan move on from us because we aren't going to be any closer to Jesus at the end of it, anyway.
Or, we can give ourselves to the season of Lent. Let's these forty days do something to us, with us, for us. Let them be a time to reflect on what distances us from God and one another and deal with that. Let Satan be tempted to tempt us because we are attempting to turn more fully in God's direction. Let the beast and the angels and our brothers and sisters help us through these days of holy and reflection and action.
Our guest preacher on Wednesday (12:30 in the sanctuary; lunch available before and after), Dr. Brent Driggers, teaches New Testament at Lutheran Seminary in Columbia. Come let his words and our worshipping God together be another aid in your forty day journey toward faithfulness.