A lot can change in forty days.
I listen intently to the news every day, mostly on the radio as I drive. It occurred to me how much can happen in just a few weeks. The world can turn upside down.
Last September, the economy was chugging along with its usual rises, falls, bumps, and curves. A few weeks later, long-time stable companies were teetering on edge, struggling for survival.
Last October, the relatively low-heat stability in Palestinian-Israeli relations erupted into a firestorm of violence. It only took a few weeks for an uneasy peace to break into all-out war, and a few weeks more for active aggression to revert to angry hostility.
Forty days ago, another President with another Cabinet and another Congress led the nation, and now a new President and new advisors bring forth ideas that would never have come from their predecessors. A lot can change in forty days.
In the Old Testament, forty days of rainfall ended an era and re-defined the covenant between God and the people of Israel. In only forty days, the newly liberated Hebrew people grew restless and rebellious at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and in those same forty days Moses received the commandments that made us a covenant people. Elijah fasted for forty days, and in his hunger he heard a still small voice that otherwise might have gone undetected. A lot can happen in forty days.
Forty days can also change the course of a person’s life, the direction of a human soul. Falling in love, celebrating marriage, having a baby, unexpected grief, receiving a diagnosis, going through divorce, moving away, losing a job, changing a career – there are periods as short as forty days that totally change the trajectory and direction of our journeys.
Forty days is the period Jesus spent wrestling temptation in the desert. I wonder how he was changed by the experience. I wonder how different his ministry might have been had he avoided the face-to-face tangle with the tempter. What was tempered out of him or hammered into him by the experience? What did he learn? What did he hear? How was he different? Did his disciples and friends notice?
Forty days is the length of time between Jesus’ death and his ascension, the period during which his defeated and despairing disciples discovered his resurrection and presence among them. What convulsions of spirit did the followers of Jesus experience during that time? The redemption of Peter after his denial? The sorrow and joy of Mary and Martha and Jesus’ mother? The awareness of life out of death, of resurrection out of despair? Forty days changed everything for them.
In less than forty days the direction of Paul’s life was entirely reversed. While breathing threats of murder against the disciples, he was struck by grace into utter blindness. Then the scales fell from his eyes and he dedicated himself to lifelong service to Christ. A whole lot can change in a short period of time.
Today marks the beginning of Lent. Life will change around us during these forty days, perhaps in dramatic ways we cannot predict. The world, or some parts of it, will turn over and over again. A lot can change in forty days.
What will happen within us during these forty days? What is the change we yearn for? What is the change God desires for us? Are we willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the transformation and redirection of our own lives?
During the forty days of Lent, the followers of Christ open themselves again to the restoration and pardon of God, to repentance, to the reshaping of our souls by God’s word and by God’s grace. We use various exercises to put ourselves in the most advantageous position to pay attention to God and to allow God’s Spirit to renew us. We pray, worship, gather with others, study God’s word, fast, tithe, and avail ourselves of the Sacrament.
The forty days of Lent offer a time to open ourselves to the influence of God’s grace in intentional ways.
But watch out. A lot can happen in forty days. God can change us. When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own sanctification, we end up in a different place than where we started. Some of us will be changed by two degrees, a barely perceptible course adjustment, a minor reorientation toward following Christ more faithfully and fruitfully. Others of us may find ourselves turned around, completely redirected, reversing course, and following Christ in ways we cannot now imagine.
A lot can change in forty days. Our world can turn around in a few short weeks.
Pray with me that God changes us from the inside out during this season of preparation and restoration.
Yours in Christ,