Here’s an article by Barbara Brown Taylor on the meaning of Lent. I like her take on how the forty days idea took root in Christian faith & practice. It’s from a 1998 issue of Christian Century, titled Settling for Less, based on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Luke 4:1-13:
Do not bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary. There was no such thing in biblical times. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted 40 hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom of spending 40 days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian adrenaline was over and believers had gotten very ho-hum about their faith.
When the world did not end as Jesus himself had said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves. They hung a wooden cross on the wall and settled back into their more or less comfortable routines, remembering their once passionate devotion to God the way they remembered the other enthusiasms of their youth. Continue reading 'The Meaning of Lent'»