15 January 2008


...also known as Pre-Lent is almost upon us! The three Reformation solas figure largely in this little season of three Sundays.

Septuagesima is grace alone Sunday as witnessed by the Gospel reading (Laborers in the Vineyard), but "grace alone" does not mean that one is free to live like a pig! Hence, the appointed Epistle, warning us of the need to discipline our bodies. The joy of grace is that frees us to WORK in the Lord's vineyard and from the hell of idleness!

Sexagesima is the Word alone Sunday as witnessed by the Gospel, and the newly appointed Epistle (Hebrews 4). If there is to be change wrought in our lives that is lasting and wholesome, the Word of God (in every meaning of that term!) is the agent of that change. This means daily time in hearing the Scriptures yes, and seeking to live from them, and above all the gathering together in the weekly assembly to let the Word of God truly transform our lives as we are united with Christ.

Quinquagesima is Christ alone Sunday as we, with eyes wide open to the mercies of God in Christ, follow our Savior as He heads up to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, our Victorious Lord and gracious Substitute.

The whole point of Gesimatide is to prepare us, to ready us, for the great journey to Easter which we call Lent. Lent itself reminds us of how often we fail to live from the newness of life that our Lord granted us in the Baptismal waters, and calls us to return to that life of death to sin and resurrection with our victorious Savior. Repentance is not merely about "feeling sorry" but about "getting a new mind," learning to see things from the Lord's perspective and living from that.

So, wherever you are, I pray that you spend the next three weeks preparing for a blessed and joyous Lent! May the time you spend with your Lord Jesus in the weeks to come truly bring you renewal and joy and growth in union with Him who on Calvary's cross won forgiveness for all our sin and by His resurrection victory smashed wide open the grave!


Past Elder said...

I'm wondering what you think of this --

The Eastern and Western Churches alike have "pre-Lents" (though Rome typically has obliterated that, relegating the gesimas to numerically anonymous "ordinary time" in the novus ordo) but where the Western Church, or that part of it that still observes it, begins its transition to Lent with the Workers in the Vineyard, the Eastern Church does so with the story of Zacchaeus.

It strikes me the each story makes similar points: both start with works, in the vineyard or climbing a tree to better view Jesus; both have men valuing their works by reference to the object of the works, the boss, Jesus; both find everyone grumbling about their ideas of right and fair not seeming to be found, in the wage or in the visit to a tax collector; both find men having their ideas of what they should do and how it should be valued turned upside down; both find God pleasing action, either working for the stated wage regardless or making restitution rather than climbing for a better view, possible only after the focus being taken off their works and put on the boss, Jesus, so that either makes the point, to borrow your language, that grace frees us to work in a God pleasing way rather than trying to please God by our works as a measure of grace.

West or East then, the church teaches about grace, and the right relationship of works to it, and therefore what is just in God's eyes as opposed to ours, in these Gospel sections.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

It's such a shame that so many of us rejoice over the disappearance of the Gesima season. However, I suppose that since we don't really observe Lent as a fasting season, then the penitential character of the Gesimas seems like we're overdoing it. Whether it is right to annul the season of fasting and shorten the season of penitence in favor of a longer Epiphany season (which seems re-focused more on missions) is left to the reader to determine, I guess.

I thought the three great Solas of the Reformation were "Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone." Not that I dislike the twist of "Grace alone, Word alone, Christ alone," but it isn't quite the same, is it?

Fr John W Fenton said...

FWIW, in the liturgical books, "Gesimatide" is referred to as "Septuagesima Season."

Also, Past Elder is quite right about grace being the theme of the pre-Lenten period in the Western tradition. One of the first issues of Gottesdienst carries an article about the grace-character in the three Sundays of the Septuagesima Season. For those interested, see Dr Eckardt.

William Weedon said...

Amen, Past Elder.

Pr. Harju, to quote my dear Dr. Nagel, the words are only bearing full Gospel freight when they are synonymous. Thus, faith alone IS Christ alone. He's sole content that faith is hanging onto, and faith minus Christ equals absolutely nothing.

Anonymous said...

Please pardon the length of the quotation below. It is from a great little booklet by Benjamin Gertz Lotz titled "The Christian Year." From "The Twilight Season" on p. 34-35 it says of the Gesima Sundays:

"One of our teachers has called their period a Twilight Season. After the bright evening sun has dropped into the west, there is a time of day before night falls which we call twilight. It is a period of soft and subdued light, which prepares us for the shades of evening. This season in the Christian Year is very similar to that. The Epiphany Sun has gloriously shined upon us. The shades of the Lenten night are soon to gather about us. But before that time comes to pass, we enter into this twilight time of the Christian Year.

"The Gospels for these three Sundays give us the character of the season. The Gospel for Septuagesima is the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. It teaches us that the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of Grace. God's free mercy is the only rule by which we shall be judged. At the same time, the parable makes it perfectly clear to us that God as He deals with us will not make His justice void. The Gospel for Sexagesima Sunday is the Parable of the Sower. The Word is planted in the heart of man as the seed is sown in the soil. The parable teaches us that if the Word of God is to bear fruit, we must receive it, nourish it, cultivate it.

"The Gospel for Quinquagesima Sunday prepares us for the Lenten message. It is the announcement of the Great Passion of our Lord. He is going up to Jerusalem, where He will suffer and be done to death. With this Sunday the preparation for Lent ends and we turn our eyes to the Cross of Calvary. The royal standard forward goes. We, too, must go up to Jerusalem."

Pastor Jerry Gernander

Mimi said...

Interesting that there is a PreLenten celebration in the West as well. I feel so disconnected from the West this year, as our Lents are so divergent.

Thank you for this interesting post.

Rev. Gerson Flor said...

Father Weedon,
As a newcomer to the 1 year lectionary (I'm on my 2nd year with it), I appreciate your comment on the Solas in the Gesimatide.
My question is, can it be said in a slightly diferent way, Septuagesima - Sola gratia; Sexagesima - Sola Scriptura; Quinquagesima - Sola fide (as Christ opens our blind eyes to follow Him in faith to the cross); Invocavit - Solus Christus (who overcomes Satan to redeem the chilren of Adam)?
Peace in Christ.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Gernander,

Excellent - thank you!


Yes, it's not at all the same as when we're all preparing, fasting, and feasting together. Not sure when that happens again.

Fr. Flor,

By all means that works too. In fact, that is what a number of folks suggest for the third week of pre-Lent. I like the solus Christus motif though with the notion of "come let us fix our eyes on Jesus...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross." The formerly blind beggar has eyes for one Man as he follows Jesus up the road to all that awaits.