A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Between our vision of the Messiah in the Epiphany season, and the spiritual pilgrimage of Lent, we find the peculiar ‘trinity’ of weeks ending in ‘-gesima’. The sense of this little season, ‘Pre-Lent’, as it is sometimes called, is not especially obvious, at least by comparison with the seasons and celebrations around it. Nonetheless, we must be grateful to our Anglican tradition of Common Prayer, for preserving this time for us, because it provides us with such a crucial moment in our annual voyage through the message of the Gospel, presented to us in the church year.
Put most simply, Pre-Lent is a time of preparation, just as we must make preparation for any long journey or departure from our ordinary life and habits: bags must be packed, the fridge emptied, medicine acquired, passports and visas updated, tickets and lodgings booked, maps studied, our bodies trained for the strains of constant travel. We all know the frenzy that ensues if we are forced to make a journey without warning. Preparation is crucial to the safety and success of the trip.
And as it is in earthly terms, so too, with our souls: in order to make a spiritual journey, to set out on a pilgrimage from our present place in life to some new and better condition, where our souls may enjoy more fully the life for which God has made us, in order to travel a way of real progress and renewal, we must ready ourselves.
So in today’s epistle, Paul’s words couldn’t be more timely: “so run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things…I therefore so run, not as uncertainly…but I [discipline] my body, and bring it into subjection:” You must take stock of your starting point, and plan accordingly. Above all that means clearly considering our weaknesses, because it is there that we will be tested, and there that we must be prepared to grow. We must know ourselves honestly, in order to travel with the right steps, without doing more harm than good. If we are unused to daily prayer, we do not plan a Lenten journey based on a monastic rule of praying seven times a day. But we might commit to saying the Lord’s Prayer, and reading a verse of Scripture, when we wake up each morning.
But these are hard things to discern, and for most of us, perhaps, it seems that they are beyond us; perhaps the journey is too long, and too hard. It seems that we should wait at home, for the pilgrims to return, and to enjoy the stories and pictures they bring back with them. We are not able.
And so we have the parable in today’s Gospel. “And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?” It may seem there is no place for us, and we are too late. But that is only the world’s view of things, only the way of those who “run for a corruptible crown.” The prize for which we run, the goal of our journey, is not a matter of own power or accomplishment: all the workers, after all, received a penny, however long they laboured. The truth is, our spiritual prize is the result, not of our power to achieve our own ends, but our willingness to devote ourselves to the Master’s way. It is the right ordering of our hearts, our clear and faithful commitment to Jesus as Lord, that makes our passage possible. Preparation, then, means letting go of the things that prevent our spirit of trust in Him, and finding the things that protect and encourage our single-minded desire for and openness to Him, and not to any other authority. In this way, we may all learn to pray, and to make the spiritual pilgrimage, so that He may the more fully bestow His grace upon us. ‘So run, that ye may obtain.’