For centuries, various segments of the wider, universal church have set apart the forty days prior to Easter Sunday as a unique season in the family of God. It is a season of preparation, repentance, moving toward death, and resurrection. The goal of this setting aside is to create a longing for resurrection, satisfied in the celebration of Easter Sunday.
Why forty days? From Journey to the Cross:
The number forty carries great biblical significance based on: the forty days of rain Noah and his family endured in the flood, the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness, the forty days Jesus spent on the earth after his resurrection, and so much more. Forty days has been used by God to represent a period of trial, testing, and preparation.
And, to explain the journey of Lent as the immersion of ourselves in the grand story of God as a means to appreciate Easter and love Jesus:
Lent is a journey to the cross: meditating on our sin and weakness, looking to Jesus as our perfect example and substitute, and being heightened in our worship of his victory over Satan, sin, and death. On the cross, Jesus took our place to appease God’s righteous anger toward our sin and rebellion. He was separated from God so that we could experience union with God. He was crushed by God so that we could be adopted by God. He was raised with God so that we too might be raised with God. The drama of how this unfolded is the story of Lent.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day marking the beginning of this Lenten season. Again, from Journey to the Cross:
The aim of Ash Wednesday is threefold: to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need for a savior; to renew our commitment to daily repentance in all of life; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death. Our worship today should be filled with gospel truth because it is a witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ that comes with this unity.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:11, ESV)
And remember, beloved, "Lent is not about your faithfulness, but rather the faithfulness of Jesus on your behalf. He is the faithful One!"
Journey with us, O holy God, as we begin our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.