Preparing for the Journey: The Gesima Sundays

Rev. William Weedon

If Lent is the journey to Easter; if Easter is the return to the new life given to us in our Baptism; then Gesimatide is the preparation for that journey of return to our Baptism.  The Church knows in her wisdom that we cannot be like Bilbo Baggins, simply shoved out the door for our journey without our kerchief or any plans or preparations.  So for three weeks the Church seeks to ready her children to begin the slow and sometimes painful pilgrimage back to the very fountain of their life in Christ:  back to Baptism and to the life in and from Christ Himself.

Do we need a journey back?  What do you think?  The sad fact is that we constantly fall away from and betray the new life that God gave us when we were baptized.  How often we live our lives as though Christ had not been raised from the dead!  How often we live as though death had not been squashed beneath His feet and as though sin still had the right to put us in its shackles!  Lent shows what a lie we try to live from when we would still live that old way – we who have been baptized into Christ. Lent calls:  Time to come home, child!

But the journey home calls for serious effort on our part (yes, Lutherans can speak of serious spiritual effort – for them all the credit goes to God) to return to living in the dignity of our status as beloved children of the heavenly Father.  Lent forces us to face the pain of our exile – it places us in the parable of the waiting Father and calls us for us to stop hungering for the pig slop and hit the dusty trail back to the Father (see Luke 15:11ff.)  

In German there was no mistaking what Lent was about.  In German it is called “Fasten-zeit” – the time for the fast.  And the point of the fast is to discipline our bodies so that they learn, and we learn with them, that man does not live by bread alone; that we live from every word that proceeds from the mouth of our God.  "Return to me," we hear the Lord say on Ash Wednesday "with prayer and fasting." (Joel 2:12-19)

Gesima-tide, then, or Pre-Lent, seeks to get us ready for Lent and for the return to the new life.  The first week's readings stress that it will be a struggle not only with our flesh (our bellies that want to be filled, our bodies that need to be disciplined, lest we be “disqualified”), but a struggle with the inner attitude of distrust in God that breaks forth into complaining.  There's a Lenten fast for you:  lose the griping and groaning, the moping and moaning about your life and unfair things are for you.  The second week’s readings remind us the power to change is not something found in us, but in the Word of God alone - and so the extra time for the Word built into Lent, time to gather midweek and hear God's Word.  The following week issues the invitation for us to join the formerly blind man in following Jesus up to the road to Jerusalem, to see Him offer Himself to the Father and so return humanity to God.  

That's gesima-tide for you:  Septuagesima (70-some days to Easter!), Sexagesima (60-some days to Easter!), Quinquagesima (50-some days to Easter!).  It's the way the Church calls out "ready, set, and go!"  We're on the way home!

The Rev. William Weedon is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel, Illinois. He and wife, Cindi, are the proud parents of three high school and college-aged children. An advocate of the Atkins Diet, the Lenten fast becomes interesting for Pastor Weedon.

Created: January 23rd, 2008