March 2011 Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Article The number 40 appears often in the Scriptures. Noah and his family spent 40 days in the ark, before the rains stopped, the skies cleared, and the waters began to recede. Ancient Israel wandered for 40 years, before crossing through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. During those wanderings, Moses spent 40 days on the mountain, shrouded in the presence of God. King David reigned over Israel for 40 years. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
The number 40 is an important number in our Scriptures. It signals a time of trial and testing and preparation. It took 40 days to destroy the earth, and make ready for a new beginning with faithful Noah and his family. It took 40 years to prepare Israel to become a nation (after generations of living as slaves), and inhabit the Promised Land. It took 40 days for Moses to be filled with God’s presence, and prepared to call God’s people back to faithfulness. It took 40 days for Jesus to prepare for the beginning of his public ministry.
With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that the church has traditionally spent 40 days (not including Sundays) to make ready for its celebration of the paschal feast – the commemoration of Holy Week and Easter. In earlier times, this 40-day period was a time for those who were preparing to become part of the church through baptism. It was called the Catechumenate: a time of study and meditation and fasting and prayer. At the completion of this process, Catechists would be received into the life of the church through baptism, often at the Great Easter Vigil (during the night leading up to Easter Sunday).
At Saint Peter, we are pleased to continue this tradition. It begins, this year, on March 9 – Ash Wednesday. On that day, we will gather for an evening communion service, and the imposition of ashes. As the ashes are marked on our foreheads in the sign of a cross, we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This begins the 40 days: a time of reflection on our sinfulness, and our need for a Savior. During the 40 days, we will grow in our practice of discipleship habits, meet with our Saint Peter Prayer Partners, and join together on Wednesdays for evening prayer (7:00 p.m. in the Worship Center, preceded by a light meal).
Holy Week brings the season of Lent to a close. The climax of the church year takes place as we participate in the Triduum (Three Days): a worship service that spans Maundy Thursday (remembering the last supper), Good Friday (remembering the crucifixion) and Holy Saturday (waiting in vigil with the disciples for the resurrection), and prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord (this year on April 24).
I encourage you to enter into these 40 days with an expectant heart. It can be a time of testing and preparation for us as well. It can be a time when God readies us to experience Easter with a powerful sense of meaning. It can be a time of drawing deeper into the practices of our faith, and deeper into the promise of the Gospel. May it be so for you this year!
God’s peace to you all, Pastor Dave