“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
Forty days. Jesus, our Lord, spent forty days facing trials and temptations, worries and struggles. In a way, it makes no sense that God in human flesh would also suffer. And yet, Jesus came to be with us, to be one of us, to face the reality of life that God’s own family faces.
The Christian people mark off 40 days on our calendars for a season called “Lent” which begins on Ash Wednesday and gloriously concludes on Easter Sunday. Remember that 40 is Bible-speak for a long time. Noah was on the boat 40 days and 40 nights, waiting with a bunch of loud and smelly animals to see if the world would end or if a sprig of hope would emerge so that life could begin afresh. The Isrealites wandered around hungry and griping about the living conditions in the barren wilderness for 40 years. They were suspended in a holding place between the old life of slavery in Egypt and the new life of the promised land where milk and honey would flow. Moses hung out with God on Mt. Sinai for 40 days while the 10 commandments were carved in stone. Forty feels like a long time. Too long.
We have known the uneasiness of 40 days. Waiting for the doctor to call with a diagnosis, waiting for a prodigal child to come home, waiting for the wounds of a divorce to heal. Forty can seem interminably long. It stretches out beyond our storehouse of patience. We wait for a pandemic to end. We wait for civic life to reveal justice. And now we watch with horror the atrocities in Ukraine. We join in solidarity with those who are rising up and with those who are suffering. The wait for peace and freedom seems too long.
I think Lent is that season that refuses to let us off with easy answers. It invites us to sit with Jesus and all our spiritual ancestors. It invites us to pay attention to the broken places in our lives and around the globe. Where is God? Where are we in our relationship to God? Lent is a long pause. It is not an easy place but it is a place where the Spirit of God dwells. Jesus was there in the wilderness for 40 days. And the Spirit was there too. This prayer from Walter Brueggemann names for me the journey that includes both the pain and the promise of Lent’s 40 days.
“God of transformation, be with us in our loss, our brooding, and our hope. May we linger in faithfulness, not denying our pain nor cutting short our brooding. May we resist facile hopes; may we wait for you. Amen”
Grace and Peace in your 40 days,