A Pregnant Pause

Lent comes from an Old English word “Lencten” which means “Spring.” Spring is a time of new growth, a time of taking shape, of coming into bloom. It is a time of preparation.
We observe Lent for 40 days for the most part because it was the early church’s custom to observe a total fast for 40 hours preceding Easter morning. On the morning of Easter, new initiates into the faith were baptized and were allowed to take the sacrament of communion for the first time. The whole community of faith would participate in the 40 hour fast to prepare for this event. The number 40 carries great significance in the scriptures—The Israelites are in the wilderness for 40 years. The flood in Genesis begins with a period of rain for forty days and nights. Elijah sits on Mt. Horeb waiting for the voice of God for forty days and nights. Moses spends forty days on Mt. Sinai with God, Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness preparing for his ministry.
Now, why 40? Did the Hebrew people consider it a holy number? Did God just like to do things in 3’s, 7’s, 12’s, and 40’s? I’ve heard a compelling reason why the number 40 is Biblical literature. We hear the number so often because it is also the number of weeks that a baby is in gestation in her mother’s womb. Forty weeks is the amount of time that women are pregnant. It takes 40 weeks to shape us into who we are—and at the far end of 40 weeks, we are born!
This puts a new perspective on the stories in the Bible that feature the number 40. The Israelites were indeed re-born at the end of their journey in the Promised Land. They were a new people, they were no longer slaves, but free. Noah saw the whole world re-born through the floodwaters, which themselves are reminiscent of birth. Elijah, Jonah, Moses—all needed to go through a gestational period before they went on with their mission.
Jesus emerges from his forty days in the wilderness proclaiming, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news!” Lent is indeed a time of Spring. It is the pregnant pause before the exclamation of the empty tomb. It was strange for me to begin thinking of Lent in this way—I had always thought of it as a somber time, a frame of darkness that accentuates the unbelievable light of Easter.
Viewing Lent as the gestational period for our new birth in Easter brings a new meaning to the season for me—it recasts the agony of Good Friday as the birth-pangs of Easter. It re-molds the sorrowful Last supper as that reluctant sadness women sometimes feel at the end of pregnancy, knowing that soon they will give up the intimate bond of carrying their child within them.
And so I invite you to view these 40 days with me as a period of gestation, when we focus on the fact that we are “wonderfully made” and the things that go into making us who we are. And, no doubt you are celebrating with me the fact that on the Tuesday before Lent began, we welcomed a new little brother in faith, Thomas Oliver Morehead. We pray that Stacy recovers quickly. Now that the gestation is over, she and the family have a new little creation to enjoy! May our Lenten journey of gestation bring us to that same understanding of being loved and cherished by God as well!