Forty Days and Forty Nights

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It has been a momentous week, liturgically-speaking. Last Sunday we gathered on mountaintops to receive God’s continuing revelation of Jesus as the Beloved Son to whom we are to listen (Matthew 17:1-9). We also recounted Moses’ ascent to experience the glory of the LORD which was like a devouring flame on the cloud-covered mountain. “Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:12-18). On Wednesday we began our own forty day and forty night journey as we received ashes on our foreheads as signs of repentance to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. This Sunday we will sojourn with Jesus in the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights, encountering and being tested by the evil one (Matthew 4:1-11). It was a quick trip from the mountaintop to the wilderness. How quickly circumstances in our lives can change!

I am grateful for the mountaintop spiritual experiences I have been blessed with in my own life. It is my sense that most of us have had personal encounters with the Holy which have sustained us through both ordinary and difficult times. Even though they may be fleeting, and we often have difficulty in sharing these stories, they are tangible touches from God.

Being tested by the evil one is another matter, however. Consequently, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” or “save us from the time of trial and deliver us from the evil one.” Since times of testing and trial are far from pleasant and sometimes downright painful, why does God allow such temptations? I think the answer lies in the fact that God loves us just as we are but loves us too much to leave us as we are. We are in the process of being transformed to share the very character of Christ, just as “gold is tested by fire” (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Hebrews 12:10).  

May God use the trials and temptations of these forty days and forty nights to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Ephesians 5:22-23). In the words of the familiar Hymn 150:

Forty days and forty nights thou wast fasting in the wild;

Forty days and forty nights tempted, and yet undefiled. 

Then if Satan on us press, Jesus, Savior, hear our call!

Victor in the wilderness, grant we may not faint nor fall!



Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.