Ministerial Musings: What Is Lent?

Take a look at Matthew 4:1-11. This is the text around which the Christian Church modeled the Lenten season. Jesus journeys into the wilderness right before he begins his public ministry. He is tempted by Satan for forty days and forty nights.

In biblical parlance, “forty” signifies “a really long time.” According to Genesis 7:4, it rained for forty days and forty nights when Noah and his family were in the ark. That does not necessarily mean forty calendar days. It means a long, long time. (Being inundated with the stench of a floating menagerie for one week would be too long for me!)

The same is true of the temptation of Christ. Fasting for just a few days would make one famished. Contrary to reason, this ancient Christian practice is actually supposed to make us stronger to face whatever trials come our way. Jesus prepared himself for one of the greatest tests of all — and he passed it with flying colors.

The forty days of Lent reflect this lengthy, arduous time of temptation. (It does not include Sundays, because we always celebrate the resurrection on the Sabbath.)

According to the Methodist theologian, Laurence Hull Stookey, Lent has a dual purpose. It is “a time for probing considerations of our human condition, including sin and its deadly consequences for both individuals and society” and “a time for an equally intense consideration of the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ and their implications for practical living.” (1996: 80)

Carve time out of your busy schedule over these next six-and-a-half weeks to dig deep. Make this a family time of sacred introspection and faithful devotion. It will make the empty tomb we find at the end of this season all the more glorious.

Rev. Dr. John Tamilio III, Ph.D.

John Tamilio III is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, an accomplished guitarist, and a nationally published author. His first book of poetry, Blind Painting, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 2003. He and his wife, Susan, live in Lakewood, Ohio with their children: Sarah, “Jay” (John IV), and Thomas.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 10:02 PM, 02.21.2012