Septuagesima Sunday is the first of the three Sundays of “Pre-Lent.” It is a time to consider our Lenten discipline. What will we forgo and what will we take on? It is a time of subjecting the body to the soul, a time of sacrificing time, gifting our hours to God.
There are as many ways of practicing Lent, of strengthening our souls and bodies, as there are individual persons on Earth. And so each of us looks deep within to clean out the dusty dark places. We confess our brokenness. We seek healing. We seek wholeness, holiness. We ask our Creator, what should I do? What should I deny? Lead me, Lord.
The denying part for me means abstinence from meats and sweets, a rule difficult enough to strengthen me yet not so difficult as to destroy my resolve. And Sundays are feast days, a break from the rule of abstinence.
As to what should I do, take on, I often memorize Scripture, words that nourish in times of famine. And while we are not yet burning books in today’s cancel culture, words are often banned, speech is often silenced, and ideas are often buried or twisted beyond recognition. In some cases, words are criminalized, and speakers are persecuted if not prosecuted.
It is useful for me to have a storehouse of words, sentences, and paragraphs learned by heart, a library of truth safe inside the vaults of my memory. They say memorization is a good exercise for the brain, that it will help us run the race to the finish.
Hymns, so full of Scripture and God’s truth, make memorization easier – allowing us to sing sentences, prompting our memories with melody.
And so, I am grateful for the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, for with time, the repetition of these profound doctrines that teach the meaning of our lives, telling us who we are as human beings on this spinning planet, telling us who our Creator is and His great acts of love done for us. These truths teach us how to love one another and live with one another in peace, about rights and wrongs and do’s and don’ts – all of these sacred songs sung to us in the Liturgy – these mean everything.
As I join others in a Sunday liturgy, I am grateful reciting the Creed summarizing our beliefs in the magnificent miracles of God on Earth. I am grateful praying the “Our Father,” the prayer Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, a prayer moving my thoughts into a humbler sphere, a place of openness and trust and wonder, a sanctuary where I hear God’s voice, spoken to me, to me alone.
For God speaks to each of us individually. He created each one of us as unique beings, never before created and never to be replicated. We are his children, and he speaks to you and me specifically. He calls us by name, the names given in our Baptisms, the names sealing our covenant of love with Him through water and words, conveying his Spirit into our bodies, regenerating our souls.
And as He speaks to each one of us, He invites each of us to work for Him in his vineyard. This work too is unique. As today’s parable tells us in the Gospel reading, as the day is ending Our Lord is still finding laborers to work for Him, to tend to the harvest of his vineyards. At the end of the day he is inviting any and all who come to Him. At the last hour he touches another heart and reaches for another hand, to lead one more of his children into his Kingdom. At the last hour he invites us to do the same.
Where is the Kingdom? It is here and now; it is there and then. We are invited into His glory now and later, for the Kingdom begins when our new life begins in Christ. It continues past bodily death, as we are resurrected into the New Heaven and Earth, when Christ comes again to reign.
I will never fully understand why I said yes to Christ’s invitation into the vineyard of faith fifty-three years ago, at the all-knowing age of twenty. The reasoning of C.S. Lewis fed my mind, and the local Episcopal church entranced my heart with its beauty of word and song. But why, I often wonder, have I been given such joy in my faith, when friends and family pursue the dailiness of life’s duties without such joy, without such faith. I am grateful to Lewis for his labors in the vineyard.I suppose Lewis said yes as well and went on to say yes to the works in the vineyard to which he was assigned.
Many others said yes to God’s invitation to believe, and many churches said yes to God’s liturgies and entrancing beauty. In the late 1960’s the Episcopal parish I visited said yes to beauty and truth. I was unfamiliar with the rites, the responses, the rituals, but I was happy to be there in the midst, like a butterfly pausing inside a rainbow, thirsty for color. I returned again and again and soon I was saying the responses, praying the prayers. Soon I was instructed by a priest who had said yes to the invitation long before I did, and soon the bishop touched my head with the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, making me a communicating (able to take Communion) member of the flock of the great Shepherd. I was given the faith of the Apostles, handed down through the centuries, living and whole and true.
That Episcopal parish has since shattered, its sheep scattered. Wolves entered in the night as the clergy slept. Some of the faithful escaped the modern heresies, reformed and regrouped as Anglicans. Others were devoured, their assents to Christ forgotten, their faith frozen like the animals in Narnia in the long eternal winter of the White Witch.
But I do digress. Today, all one needs to recall is to keep recalling. All one needs to remember is to re-member the faith, speak the faith, pray the faith unceasingly, and discipline the mind with memory.
National memory is threatened by the wolves of today, and just so memory of Our Lord and his great acts among us is threatened.
We must remember to remember. We must recite our recitations. We are in a dark and cold winter, but we must listen to His commands to do the work we are assigned. It often seems the end of the day, the last hour, but no matter. We seek the work Our Lord gives us to do.
This Lent listen and learn the words by heart. Sing the songs. Discipline time and strengthen hours with Scripture and Liturgy. The day is ending and the night is near. We must assent to joy, pray without ceasing, as we wait for the dawn.
Today, Septuagesima Sunday, listen to His voice, listen for the invitation to work in the vineyard one more hour, one more day, one more year, doing one more labor for His glory.