For those of us using the one-year lectionary, this coming Sunday will be observed as Transfiguration (one of the Lutheran changes to the historic calendar - moving it from August 6, though many still observe it upon that day - see Hammer of God). After Transfiguration the little season of pre-Lent begins. Here I always think of the unfortunate Bilbo Baggins being hurried out of his hobbit hole by Gandalf with not even time to pack an extra kerchief. We're far more comfortable heading off on a journey when we have time to think about where we're going, how we'll get there, and what we'll need for the journey.
Lent itself is the journey to the Paschal Mystery: to our Lord's lifting up through Cross, Descent into Hell, and Resurrection from the dead. It is a journey to the new life into which Baptism placed us, and which our own lives continually betray and ignore. Lent, then, is not an exercise in disciplines needed only for six odd weeks of our earthly pilgrimage each year. What a waste that would be! Lent is rather the boot-camp wherein we practice toward that life which will be ours fully and finally on the Day of the Resurrection of all flesh.
But if Lent is such a journey, then pre-Lent is the preparation for such a journey each year. How may one prepare for this journey? The Gospel readings point the way: by grace alone (Septuagesima's Gospel: no credit to us - working in the vineyard is a gift); by the Word alone (Sexagesima's Gospel: the operative power for the new life comes from God's own Words to us, not our ascetical efforts); by faith alone (Quinquagesima's Gospel: which is the joy of companionship with Jesus as with eyes now wide open and healed we follow Him up to Jerusalem). Pre-Lent, in other words, strips from us the illusion of "He does His part and we do ours" and shows us our total dependance upon our Lord; this change we seek is wrought freely by His grace at work through the power of His Word as He strengthens our faith to walk with Him through our own Calvarys and out of our tombs. If I may put it so, with Pre-Lent the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism are cleansed out of Lent for us, and we can approach the Day of Ashes totally dependent upon our Lord. As we pray on each of the Sunday's of this little season:
may we mercifully be delivered by YOUR goodness (Sept.)...by YOUR power may we be defended against all adversity (Sex.)...having set us free from the bonds of our sins, deliver us from every evil (Quin.)!