SERMON 27 FEBRUARY 2022
The Sunday next before Lent (Quinquagesima)
In the early centuries of the Christian Church the best cosmologists were in Egypt. For that reason Christians relied on the Egyptian calculations to know on what Sunday the great Festival of Easter would occur in any particular year. The Patriarch of Egypt, such as St Athanasius, sent a Festal Letter every year to all the bishops throughout the world, announcing the date of Easter. It was important for every Christian to know that because in those days new believers received the sacrament of Holy Baptism at Easter. Furthermore, they were required to prepare for many weeks before they were baptized and it was usual for all Christians to support those about to be baptized by fasting and prayer and to receive instruction with the catechumens in the Christian faith.
This is the origin of the Lenten fast, which we are about to begin next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. This year the fast prepares us for Easter Day, Sunday April 17th.
Different churches used to observe different lengths for the fast. We keep 40 weekdays following the example of Jesus, when he fasted in the desert after he was baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. But some churches kept up to 70 days, which is why our old Prayer Book calls this Sunday, Quinquagesima, the Latin for 50 days.
The name of the season ‘Lent’ is an Old English word referring to the lengthening of daylight in springtime.
It is a time of growth; a time for spiritual growth, looking forward to Easter as we celebrate the transformation of our lives by the grace of Jesus Christ to eternal, risen life in God.
We begin with prayer and particularly by self- examination, confessing our sins and asking God for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God and with our fellow human beings. With our prayer we join fasting to make us more alert to God. With our minds more alert to God we are ready to learn about his intentions for this world, our place in it and ultimately beyond it in life beyond death. Above all, we aim to grow in love by living a good life and sharing what we have with others.
In the next few days let us give thought to confession of our sins, amendment of life, we should plan to pray and fast in Lent, and arrange for study of God perhaps chose a book and how we propose to be more generous in showing love.
The Rule of St Benedict gives instructions for the Obervance of Lent, bearing in mind that we need to consult a spiritual guide to avoid unwise excesses. I will end by reading part of Chapter 49 of St Benedict’s Rule.
“We urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligence of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self denial.
During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to Holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”
Crispin Harrison CR