Do we really need time to prepare to repent, you ask? Do we need to prepare for Lent for three whole weeks? Yes and no. While I don’t know that we need to spend every waking moment preparing for the great fast of Lent, I do think that it’s good to be reminded that it’s coming. Many of us lead busy, full lives, and Lent can actually sneak up on me. One minute it’s Valentine’s Day, and the next it’s Ash Wednesday, and I have to suddenly come up with a plan for the next forty days.
Last Sunday would have been called “Septuagesima” if you attend a church that still follows our Book of Common Prayer calendar. The Revised Common Lectionary did away with some of these older terms, which is a shame, as we have lost this part of our heritage. The word Septuagesima comes from the Latin word for “seventieth,” this being the seventieth day before Easter. The following Sundays are Sexagesima (for sixtieth), and Quinquigesmia (for fiftieth). After that, we start counting the Sundays in Lent until Easter.
This pre-Lenten time was a chance to prepare for the fast days of Lent—perhaps to decide what things you are going to take on for Lent, or what things you are going to give up.
The Gospel lesson for Septuagesima Sunday is from Matthew, chapter 20: the parable about the labourers each receiving a penny for their work, regardless of how long they’d been there. St. Chrysostom wrote of this passage: “[Jesus] calls the first last, and the last first, not so that the last may be more honoured than the first, but that they may become co-equal; and that between them there is no difference by reason of time.” What a reassuring thing to think about as we prepare ourselves for the fast of Lent and the forgiveness of Easter—it is never too late to return to the Lord.