February 2018 Letter

The 40 Days of Lent


How are the dates of Lent and Easter determined each year in the Church?”  To determine the start (Ash Wednesday) of the Season of Lent, one first needs to determine when Easter Sunday will occur.  In Western Christianity, “Easter Day is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21.  The full moon may happen on any date between March 21 and April 18 inclusive.  If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday following.  Easter Day cannot be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25.  Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, falls in the seventh week before Easter.” (LSB, Dates of Easter, p. xxiii).

The earliest possible date for Ash Wednesday is February 4, if Easter Sunday is on March 22, and the latest possible date for Ash Wednesday would be March 10 (in 2038) if Easter Sunday is on April 25.  There are six Sundays in the Season of Lent, but the 40 days of Lent do not include the Sundays in Lent.  In Rome, and in the West, people fasted for six weeks (Monday – Saturday) thereby making Lent last for six weeks.  Eventually, the practice prevailed of fasting for six days a week over the course of six weeks, and Ash Wednesday was instituted to bring the number of fast days before Easter to 40.


The number "40" has had special spiritual significance regarding preparation throughout the Bible. On Mt. Sinai, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, "Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water" (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked "40 days and 40 nights" to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai) (1 Kings 19:8). And Jesus fasted and prayed for "40 days and 40 nights" in the desert before He began His public ministry (Matthew 4:2).

The modern observance of Lent balances the historic penitential theme of repentance and the modern preparation for Easter with the baptismal theme (The Sacrament of Baptism would traditionally occur on the Vigil of Easter [Saturday]).  The “40 Days of Lent” is a time for the discipline of learning and growing in faith, for repentance and for prayer, even for fasting to practice self-control and to heighten one’s awareness of Christ. 

“1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)   


            Lenten Blessings,


            Pastor David A. Feddern