Lent is from the Anglo-Saxon word lengten, which means - spring. This makes sense because of the season of the year it takes place.
Why 40 Days? The 40 days are in imitation of Jesus who was fasting in the desert for 40 days. But why was Jesus in the desert for 40 days? He did this to imitate the Israelites who were in the desert for 40 years. Why were the Israelites in the desert for 40 years?
Lots of questions huh.
The Israelites had been in bondage and just passed through Red Sea (Which St. Paul says is a type for Baptism 1 Corinthians 10:2) and were traveling through the desert, headed toward the promised land,
Now this signifies our own journey from the bondage of sin (Egypt) through this world (Desert) to heaven (Promised Land).
Their journey through the desert was originally planned to have only taken 1 year. But when it came time for the Israelites to enter, they no longer had faith in God and were afraid of the Cannanites that lived there. For this reason, God had them wander in the desert for 40 years as a punishment. During this time, the generation that didn't want to go in would be killed and a new generation would be raised up that wanted to enter into the Promised Land.
St. Paul talks about this when he says:
- Romans 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.
- Ephesians 4:22-24 Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
- Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices 10 and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Now Jesus was doing several things in the desert, but one of them was encountering the devil (as Israel did) and vanquish him with the word of God. Not with lasers out of his eyes, no super-powers, no miracles, just plain old faithfulness. Amazing how boring it sounds to defeat the devil. He was also showing us, in part, how to treat this world, this journey. During that time he fasted from the earthly comforts of food, shelter, and companionship to show us that our sole purpose for this world is transitory. We are just passing through. Our consolations should not be in this world, but in our Heavenly Father. THEREFORE Lent is a renewing of our efforts to prepare ourselves for Heaven.
Now Jesus didn't HAVE to die to some old way of living and sin, but he does it because that is what WE need to do, and he calls us to imitate Him.