The Teutonic word Lent originally simply meant the spring season. Now, of course, Lent, in most Christian denominations, is the forty-day liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter. Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days’ fast was of Apostolic institution.
The forty-day period is symbolic of the 40 days spent by Jesus in the desert. The number forty has many other Biblical references: the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the forty days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; God made it rain for forty days and forty nights in the days of Noah; the Hebrew people wandered forty years traveling to the Promised Land; Jonah in his prophecy of judgment gave the city of Nineveh forty days time in which to repent.
Jesus retreated into the desert, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil. Jesus overcame all three of Satan’s temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry.
It was also traditional belief that Jesus lay for 40 hours (instead of the biblical three days) in the tomb.
I think, however, that Lent indicates the fact that God lent his son to us. God never sacrificed his son, Jesus. What kind of sacrifice is flagellation, some verbal abuse, obloquy, to be sure, but none worse than verbal abuse nonetheless, and some 40-odd hours of “death” – during which Jesus traveled to Hades and visited with some interesting individuals? Big deal! This ain’t no “sacrifice”! Jesus is hardly dead or he rises again, to be with “dad” forever.
Lent – God lent his son to us. Hallelujah!