Tick Tock

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Biblical Themes of Lent

When we think of Lent, we think of spring. That's because the word comes from a German word for "springtime". In many other languages(e.g. Spanish: Cuaresma), the name for the season before Easter is derived from the Latin word for "40", a clue that something else important is happening, something that our Scripture talks about. The 40 days of Lent recall the 40 days of Jesus' being tempted in the wilderness. But when we look at the Gospel accounts of Jesus' temptations, always read on the first Sunday of Lent, we see that they in turn direct us further. Jesus' temptations recall the 40 years of Israel's temptation in the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land.

Forty Years

The number 40 is a very familiar one in the Bible.
In the story of Noah and the flood, it rains 40 days and 40 nights.
After the sealing of the covenant at Mt. Sinai, Moses is with God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.
When the prophet Elijah is being pursued by Queen Jezebel, he flees for his life and travels for 40 days and 40 nights until he comes to the mountain of God at Horeb.

The number appears also in the New Testament.
Jesus is tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and his ascension to heaven occurs 40 days after the Resurrection.

In the passage at the start of this section, the Israelites are encamped in the southern desert, within easy reach of the Promised Land. Scouts go ahead to survey the land, which they do for 40 days. They bring a glowing report of the land, but also note that some of the inhabitants are large and imposing. Despite the urgings of Joshua and Caleb, the people are afraid to go up into the land. Their refusal is a serious failure of faith in Yahweh's promise to give them the land. As a punishment, the people are to wander for 40 years, one year for each day the scouts were gone.

Numbers in the bible are often not meant to be taken literally, but serve a symbolic function. Our suspicions are aroused especially with a number that recurs so frequently as 40. What would be the symbolic meaning of the number 40?
On one level, it represents a longer period of time, but there is more.

The longer time has content: It is a time of need, of struggle, of testing. There is in fact extra-biblical evidence for this usage as well.

But in the Bible, a third level of meaning appears. 40 denotes a period of preparation for some special action of the Lord; it is a time of grace.

After the flood in Genesis, a new creation begins.
After Moses converses with God, the covenant is renewed.
After Israel's wandering in the wilderness, they will enter into the Promised Land.
After Elijah's journey, God strengthens him to resume his prophetic ministry.
After Jesus' temptation, he begins his public ministry; after the Ascension, we enter the age of the Church.
At the end of the season of Lent, we celebrate Holy Week and the great feast of Easter.

Thus, during this Season of Lent, we should take the opportunity to reflect on our doings, to open our hearts and listen to the word of God. It may be a period of struggling, but it does not have to be a gloomy season. (Remember, the bible says that, when we fast, do not look gloomy, instead, act as if you're not fasting) After this 40 days, who knows, we may be renewed...by the grace of God...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

From Ashes to the Font

Ash Wednesday is 2 weeks from now, and it's almost time to shift our focus from the merry festive season of Christmas to a time of reflection and penance. Let's get start our preparation with a short article on Ash Wednesday...

The call to continuing conversion reflected in these readings is also the message of the ashes. We move through Lent from ashes to the baptismal font. We dirty our faces on Ash Wednesday and are cleansed in the waters of the font. More profoundly, we embrace the need to die to sin and selfishness at the beginning of Lent so that we can come to fuller life in the Risen One at Easter.

When we receive ashes on our foreheads, we remember who we are. We remember that we are creatures of the earth ("Remember that you are dust"). We remember that we are mortal beings ("and to dust you will return"). We remember that we are baptized. We remember that we are people on a journey of conversion ("Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel"). We remember that we are members of the body of Christ (and that smudge on our foreheads will proclaim that identity to others, too).

Renewing our sense of who we really are before God is the core of the Lenten experience. It is so easy to forget, and thus we fall into habits of sin, ways of thinking and living that are contrary to God's will. In this we are like the Ninevites in the story of Jonah. It was "their wickedness" that caused God to send Jonah to preach to them. Jonah resisted that mission and found himself in deep water. Rescued by a large fish, Jonah finally did God's bidding and began to preach in Nineveh. His preaching obviously fell on open ears and hearts, for in one day he prompted the conversion of the whole city.

From the very beginning of Lent, God's word calls us to conversion. If we open our ears and hearts to that word, we will be like the Ninevites not only in their sinfulness but also in their conversion to the Lord. That, simply put, is the point of Ash Wednesday!

Taken from http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0204.asp