The season of Lent is a season of forty days and forty nights of preparation and repentance, denial and fasting, a forty-day journey to Jerusalem and the cross. The forty-day span of the season arose in Christianity in parallel to the model of Jesus. The Gospels portray Jesus as spending forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, being tempted and tested, fasting and hungering, wrestling and preparing for his journey to the cross (Matt 4:2, Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).
Centuries before Jesus, Moses also spent forty days and forty nights wrestling with God in the wilderness. In Deut 9:25, Moses recalls for a new generation of Israelites how he prayed to God to forgive the rebellious Israelites who worshipped the golden calf (Exodus 32) and who refused to accept God’s gift and enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). In both instances, God threatened to destroy Israel. In both instances, Moses prayed and advocated for the sinful Israelites “throughout the forty days and forty nights that I lay prostrate before the LORD when the LORD intended to destroy you” (Deut 9:25). Imagine the scene on top of the mountain in the wilderness. Moses, lying face down and stretched out, advocating for others, on a hunger strike (“I neither ate bread nor drank water”—Deut 9:9, 18), trying to persuade God and appealing to God’s mercy. And remarkably, Moses remembered, “the LORD listened to me that time also” (Deut 9:19).
Moses provides an additional insight into what we might do this year in our Lenten journey. Lent is often seen as a time for personal wrestling with inner demons, repenting of our own personal sin, a time of discipline and denial for our own spiritual health and maturation. All of that is well and good. The example of Moses, however, may offer an additional discipline for Lent: intense prayer for others, advocating for those lost in their wilderness journey, pleading for God’s mercy and kindness upon those in need. In addition, our Lenten discipline may include a time to give thanks for those people in our lives who have prayed for us and advocated for us at times we were not aware, who held us up before the throne of grace in times when our spirits were low and our faith needed strengthening.
Gracious and loving God, I give thanks to all those whom you have sent to support me in my journey of faith., all those who have prayed for me , advocated for me, and given me strength to travel through the wilderness parts of my life. Use me, O Lord, as an advocate for others, as a channel to bring the needs and hurts of others before your throne of grace. I pray in the name of Jesus, our High Priest and Intercessor, and through the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Amen.
Professor Dennis Olson