In Lent, forty is a very special number.
This season of the Church’s year – a season of repentance and renewal as we wait for the celebration of Easter – lasts for forty days (excluding Sundays: the day of resurrection).
Lent recalls Jesus’s forty-day stay in the desert before the beginning of his ministry.
And it echoes the forty years that the people of Israel spent journeying through the wilderness, through the Egyptian desert before they reached the promised land.
That experience in the desert, journeying to the Promised Land, was, in many ways the place where the faith of Israel came into being: here an extraordinarily close relationship between God and his people was formed: the relationship that is central to the entire Bible.
But this was also a time when the people of Israel were open to extreme dangers and terrible temptations. They often grumbled against their leaders and against God, and were tempted to the worship of idols.
There is a similar ambiguity in the accounts of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness. After his baptism, he went to the Judean desert, away from crowds and activity, to be in a place where he could be still and pray and be with the Father.
But in the desert, Jesus was also vulnerable and, the gospels recount, different temptations pressed upon him.
Lent is a wonderful season when we are invited to draw close to the Father as the Israelites did in their journey through the wilderness for forty years, and as Jesus did in his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness.
We can do this in particular through the three core Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
But, as we come close to God in this holy season, any or all of these can feel joyless and irksome. For the season of Lent does not lead us into some sort of idealised life where self-improvement suddenly becomes easy.
Rather, God’s grace is released into our lives in and through our struggles and often our failures.
Like Jesus, we may find ourselves the company of the wild beasts but the angels will minister to us.
There are a number of organisations that have made appeals of various kinds during Lent, each is looking for the support of people who wish to make an active difference to our world:
Chichester Diocese Lent Appeal for Family Support Work
This year's Diocesan Lent Appeal aims to raise awareness of the tremendously important work of the Chichester Diocesan Association for Family Support Work (FSW) across the diocese and help to realise the target it has set itself - to see a support worker in every part of Sussex within five five years.
Bishop Martin is the patron of FSW and has been very much involved in supporting the charity’s focus for the next five years.
A strong family for every Child in Sussex is the single aim of FSW, set up to support those at the margin of society, those least able to support themselves, those who are most at risk of slipping through the safety net.
FSW Director, Martin Auton-Lloyd, said: "I'm delighted to be the recipient of the Diocesan Lent appeal this year.
"As we start on a programme of growth over the next 5 years to meet the needs of the families in Sussex with a vision of our Family Support Practitioners covering the whole of [Sussex]."
Christian Aid - Count Your Blessings
Christian Aid are running a Lent and Easter appeal called 'Count your Blessings.' There are resources, calendars and videos with more information on their website at: https://www.christianaid.org.uk/lent-easter/
Water Aid - Jars of Change
Churches can apply for a resource pack to help make a difference in communities around the world who lack easy access to clean and fresh water. There's still time to organise events and raise awareness and make a real difference in the lives of others around the world. There's more information and churches can order a resource pack from:https://www.wateraid.org/uk/get-involved/faith-groups