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Ash Wednesday and The Forty-Days of Lent

Posted by Georgialee Lang on

Christians have observed Lent for over a  thousand years,  which begins with Ash Wednesday, on February 17, 2021 this year. Lent is derived from the Old English word “lencten” meaning “spring season”. While there is no reference in scripture to Lent, it is believed to have been conceived at the time of the First Council of Nicea, who adopted the Nicean Creed and initiated the season of Lent in the year 325.  

Ash Wednesday is a solemn occasion accompanied by confession, repentance, reflection,  prayer, self-denial, and fasting. The most prominent feature of Ash Wednesday is the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants with the admonition to “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or the more traditional “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return”. 

It is intended that Christians meditate on Christ’s ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection. The 40-day period is symbolic of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. We read in Matthew 4:1-11: 

“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterwards was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him: “If you are the Son of God, command that  these stone become loaves of bread.”

The number 40 is significant in the Bible. Consider the following events:

  1. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God. (Exodus 24:18)
  2. Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:8)
  3. God sent 40 days and nights of rain in the great flood of Noah. (Genesis 7:4)
  4. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. (Numbers 14:33)
  5. Joshua gave 40 days to the city of Ninevah in which to repent or be destroyed. (Jonah 3:4)
  6. It is believed that Jesus laid in the tomb for 40 hours.

The Lenten season culminates in the celebration of Christ rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, but not before we celebrate Palm Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week,  and mourn the events and solemnity of Good Friday, where Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may have life eternal. 

This season of the Church, steeped in blessed traditions, is a time for us to marvel at God’s ultimate plan for his people: the sacrifice of his Son so that we may be redeemed and saved from eternal damnation; that we may recognize the Glory of God and his wonderful gift of Grace to us. 

My hope is that during this difficult time in our country and our lives we will cling evermore to the Promises of Our Savior, Our Healer, the Great Physician, the Omnipotent One, who reigns forevermore. He deserves our devotion and sacrifice, because He gave His all to us. 


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