Gesima Sundays – Descent into Lent


Gesimatide, the three-Sunday long season between the Transfiguration of our Lord and Ash Wednesday, is the Church’s journey down the mountain of the Transfiguration to the valley that is Lent.

On the last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Gospel appointed for Transfiguration shows us a glimpse of Christ’s reality, a reality seldom seen on this side of eternity. The God-Man Jesus, who in complete submission to the Father left the glory of heaven and humbled himself to be born in the flesh, blood, and bone of man; the Christ of God who, through his life, teaching, and miracles gives glory to the Father, stands before the disciples—and us—fully displayed in his own divine glory and majesty. And with him are the icons of the Law and the Prophets: Moses who was secretly buried by God at his death, and Elijah who did not die, but was taken by God into heaven. And Jesus is having a conversation with them.

It is exactly the fact that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were having this conversation that has led to the liturgical placement of the Transfiguration as the final Gospel of Epiphany. Epiphany as a feast and as a season is about the revelation of God in Christ. First in the story of the magi from the east—signifying the revelation of the Messiah beyond the tribes and people of Israel. Then his baptism is celebrated not only marking the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but also revealing him as the Son of God anointed for his work and blessed by the Father. The Gospels for the Sundays that follow present the revelation of God through the preaching, teaching, miracles, healing, and the announcement of the forgiveness of sins, that Jesus performed during his three-year ministry. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, not only is the full divine glory of Jesus revealed, but there is this holy conversation about Jesus’ exodus, his departure, in other words his coming suffering and death, which is the ultimate revelation of God.

This mountain-top conversation must be the continuation of the conversation of heaven: the plan of God for the salvation of man and the means by which Jesus would work out that merciful plan. The heavenly hosts—the angels and the whole community of saints—waited in eager expectation for the working-out of the timeless plan of the Father in time, but that does not mean they necessarily waited in silence. The heavenly conversation, now glimpsed at on the mountain of Transfiguration was about Jesus’ departure, the conversation was about the Passion to come, the conversation was about the awesome reality that holy justice required the ultimate payment, the conversation was most certainly about the Son of God paying the price for sin: the death of the Son as the all-sufficient sacrifice.

As much as the disciples wanted to, they could not remain on the mountain. Too soon Moses and Elijah were gone, the glory of the almighty Son was again hidden, and the glimpse of the Lord’s reality—a reality that confirmed the promise of God for a life after death—was gone. None record it, but the descent down the mountain was probably fraught with emotion, and the memory of what the disciples had seen likely sparked contemplation and conversation, and prepared them for the hard days soon to come.

We too cannot stay on the mountain of Christmas, Epiphany, and Transfiguration. Certainly the most ancient and most joyous season of the Church Year is yet to come, but between these two great liturgical mountains is the hard wilderness, the penitential valley of Lent. The Sundays of Gesimatide provide a deliberate descent during which we can contemplate both the mountaintop experience above and the coming wilderness journey below. It is an opportunity to gradually adjust to the change in altitude and the change in attitude. Septuagesima (70-some days before Easter), Sexagesima (60-some days before Easter), Quinquagesima (50-some days before Easter) are the angel-like hands of the Church Year that would keep us from dashing our feet against the stony pavement of Lent.

Septuagesima

O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L18)

Exodus 17:1–7
Psalm 95:1–9 (v. 6)
1 Corinthians 9:24—10:5
Matthew 20:1–16

Sexagesima

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L19)

Isaiah 55:10–13
Psalm 84 (v. 4)
2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9
Luke 8:4–15

Quinquagesima

O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers and having set us free from the bonds of our sins deliver us from every evil; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L20)

1 Samuel 16:1–13
Psalm 89:18–29 (v. 20)
1 Corinthians 13:1–13
Luke 18:31–43

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