Gesimatide. What a wonderful word. A word for a three Sunday period when the church leaves the joys of Christmas and Epiphany, but hasn't quite reached the perils and penitence of Lent. Where we take one last glimpse at all that is basic to our faith in Christ before we delve deep into the frailty of Ash Wednesday and the trudge of a journey through 40 days in the wilderness awaiting the new "Promised Land" in Christ.
This is all new for me and for my church. As an ELCA we are part of the many churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary, a cycle of readings over the course of three years that is supposed to take you through the full scope of the Scriptures (enough of it anyways). The RCL is a grandchild of the reforms around Vatican II in the 60's and a desire to have a broader scope of Scripture on Sundays than what the previous "Roman" Lectionary gave us. All of which is good.
Beginning with this church year (at Advent), my parish and I switched out lectionary from the 3-year RCL model to the "old" 1-year model. I did this for many different reasons:
1. Biblical "literacy" - As many pastors could say, our people don't know the Bible. Some know it better than others, but there is this huge grand swath of Scripture that becomes bedrock for our faith. Knowing those stories backwards and forwards becomes almost essential in comparison to hearing that one passage out Zephaniah every third year.
2. Expectation/Organization - Every year my people will know that the first Sunday of Advent will include the same readings, or close to it, as Palm Sunday. Why? Because we await our King coming to us humbly. They will also know that each Sunday will have it's name in a way, and those names coincide with particular readings every year.
3. History - I am an historian by training. I love history. To think that we are going back to reading the same lectionary texts that Martin Luther did on these Sundays. The same texts even as St. Bernard or Thomas Cranmer. A connection to a deeper ecumenical movement than just holding onto a recent attempt to join churches together that has begun fall by the wayside.
4. Fun - It's fun to try something new but to have it be ordered and historical. To move away from the common lectionary, but to still have a lectionary. To have the fun of memorization where I can know, as a pastor, what each Sunday is presenting to us.
This is all where Gesimatide, or Septuagesima, or Shrovetide, comes in to play. Since the popularity of the Revised Common Lectionary, the church has cast aside this pre-Lenten season for a more extended Epiphany season. Where Transfiguration lies right at the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. Where we move straight away from "Praise Jesus" to "Woe is me a sinner." Gesimatide provides this rest bit.. A time to catch our breath. To have some increased order to the year while also touching on some essential truths of the Gospel before we head into a time of knowing our sin.
Septuagesima is approximately seventy days before Easter. The Lutheran texts are centered on grace. The grace alone that saves. The gospel text is Matthew 20 and the workers in the vineyard where both those who work 12 hours of the day and those who work 1 hour of the day receive the same wages. Grace offending us and saving us both at the same time.
Sexagesima (~60 days before Easter) is the story of the Sower from Luke 8. The one who sows the seed and it lands on various soil, but the good soil is where it takes root. All about the Word of God doing it's work amongst God's people.
Finally, Quinquagesima (~50 days before Easter) is the story of a blind man receiving his sight by faith in Christ alone. Both an emphasis on our trusting Christ and who he says he is, but also having only that Christ as our hope.
Grace alone. Word alone. Faith alone. Christ alone. Hallmarks of the Reformation and the bedrock of the church. So as we journey through Lent and struggle with our sins - Temptation (Matthew 4), racism (Matthew 15), demons (Luke 11), mortality (John 6), Christlessness (John 8) - we can look back on these three Sundays and think to ourselves, "I know, but..." Knowing that our sins will nail Christ to that cross. Our desire to not receive grace or mercy, let alone have it land on our worst enemy, is what leads to this death that leads to our life. New life. Life that comes by grace through faith, spoken to us by Christ as the Word.
Gesimatide is important. Yes these texts show up in the lectionary later, but the church year had a reason at some point. I am still learning this, but I crave it. Having a rhythm to my spiritual journey. Seeing where each season takes us, just as I know that when October comes the days get shorter and the air gets colder, so I know that when Gesimatide hits, a time of confession and contrition is about to hit me, only to have the "Gesimas" come full circle once Easter comes. The spirit of Gesimatide alive and well in the risen Christ.