What is a “gesima”?
You may or may not have noticed, but Saint John is following a different lectionary this year. The lectionary assigns the Bible readings and prayers for each Sunday. In the past, Saint John has followed a three year cycle of readings, but we have just switched to a one year cycle, which means that the readings you are hearing this year are the same you will hear next year.
One of the most noticeable differences between the three year cycle and the one year cycle is the date of Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday where we remember Jesus being transfigured on the mountain when he was visited by Moses and Elijah. In the three year cycle, Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent; in the one year cycle, Transfiguration Sunday comes almost a month before Lent. This year, we will celebrate Transfiguration Sunday on February 9 instead of March 2.
In between Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday will be three Sundays often referred to as the gesima Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. These Sundays provide a bit of transition between the season of Epiphany, where we focus on the revealing light of the Gospel, to Lent, which is a bit more contemplative in nature. These Sundays take their name from their relationship to Easter. Quinquagesima Sunday is exactly 50 days before Easter, Sexagesima is about 60 days before Easter, Septuagesima is about 70 days before Easter.
One way these Sundays are tied together is that each one emphasizes a different Reformation sola. The Gospel reading for Septuagesima, the first of the three Sundays, is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), which emphasizes that we are saved by grace alone. In this parable, each worker receives the same wage from the owner of the vineyard, and each worker receives the wage from the master’s generosity. So also, we receive the fullness of salvation even though we have not “worked a full day.” Our salvation is not earned as payment for our hard work, it comes as a gift from God through grace alone.
The Gospel reading for Sexagesima is the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15), which emphasizes that God grants faith through Scripture alone. The sower in the parable scatters the seed, and the seed grows and bears fruit. So also, as the people of God, our calling is to spread his Word faithfully and pray that the Holy Spirit would use that Word to create faith in the hearts of all who hear it. We trust in Scripture alone to accomplish this.
The Gospel for Quinquagesima tells of Jesus healing a blind beggar, a reading which emphasizes the Reformation teaching of faith alone. Jesus tells the beggar that his faith has made him well. This follows immediately after the beggar calls Jesus the Son of David. The beggar had faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and this faith brought about his healing. So also we trust that Jesus is the Messiah, and we are saved through that faith alone, apart from any works.
As we celebrate the gesima Sundays this year, I pray that the “Reformation Solas” would be alive and well in the teaching of our congregation and as we live our Christian lives in the world around us.