One of the great advangages of being a prayer book Anglican is that you continue to use one of the historic Books of Common Prayer. That fact alone keeps you in touch with over a thoushand years of Christian history and liturgy. Today was Quinquagesima, the last Sunday in the pre-Lenten season, which was abolished by the Roman Church and her worshipers a number of years ago. But if you are a prayer book Anglican and worship in a prayer book Anglican parish the ancient collect and its set of lessons were still read to you this Sunday, the last of the three pre-Lenten Sundays.
The first of these was Septuagesima or Invitation Sunday. After the peace of the Church when it was no longer illegal to be a Christian in the Roman empire this was the Sunday on which the "hearers" - those who attended services but who had yet to be baptized - were invited to put in their name as potential candidates for baptism. On the next Sunday, Sexagesima or Exhortation Sunday, they were quite forceably reminded of the dangers of being a Christian and what they might yet be called upon to do or bear if they proceeded through the Lenten training and were actually approved to be baptized upon Easter Even. And, finally on Commencement Sunday, the class and rituals which accompanied the journey to baptism would actually begin.
In time, as the world had seemingly become totally Christian, Lent became a period in which we re-evaluated the state of our commitment to Jesus and his Church and made a pentitential preparation for our Easter communion. There were seemingly no more pagans to be converted to the Christian and Catholic faith so that part of it gradually receded into the background. Not so now! There are now hordes of our neighbors who desparately need to be converted to real Christianity, the kind left us by the apostles and their immediate successors and not the kind invented in the sixteenth century or since then. Unfortunately we have largely forgotten how to do so and have been terrorized by modern secularism into being embarassed about asking others if they are real Christians or not. For that, I have no answers except that we must screw up our courage and again talk to our neighbors about Christianity and what it really is and means. I remember how easy it was to do it when I was a teenager and first in college; I just wonder what has happened to me and others in the long interval between then and now.
So what we really need Lent for at the present is to go back and ask our Lord what he expects of us as Christians in the present age as well as for the grace and strength do actually do what he has commanded. None of this giving up chocolate or whiskey; instead we must forswear the world, the flesh and the devil and get about converting others to the faith once delivered to the saints - and to us!
Quinquagesima Sunday, 2008.