A Sunday By Any Other Name - Scott Dickison
In worship last Sunday I noted that we have had a string of important Sundays lately, with a deacon ordination, a pastor installation and then Founders' Day all in a row. Never mind that we’re not too far removed from our Advent and Christmas celebrations. And I joked that I would need to come up with some special occasion for us all to celebrate this Sunday.
Well, we’re in luck. It seems there are a number of traditions to choose from to help us focus our attention together on this final Sunday before the start of Lent. Here are some of our options:
Quinquagesima Sunday: The traditional name in the Catholic tradition for the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It comes from the Latin word quinquagesimus (fiftieth), referring to the fifty days before Easter Sunday. I think this would be a great title for the children’s sermon.
Esto Mihi Sunday: Also out of the Catholic tradition and also Latin. It’s usually translated, “Be thou unto me,” and comes from the first words of Psalm 31:3, “Be thou unto me a God, a Protector, and a place of refuge,” the traditional Introit for the Sunday. I’ll run this by Stanley for next year.
And there are even more options if we open it up to the Eastern Orthodox traditions. Of course, the Eastern Church uses a different calendar, so this Sunday is technically not the last Sunday before Lent for them, but what’s the point of being a “free” church if we can’t take some liturgical license every now and again?
Cheesefare Sunday: In the Eastern Church, the final Sunday before Lent concludes Cheesefare Week (also called Butter Week or Pancake Week), a celebration akin to Mardi Gras that is traditionally the last chance to enjoy butter, dairy, fats and oils before beginning a rigorous Lenten fast. We might time our Founders' Day a little better next year and enjoy some fine cheese together along with our fried chicken.
But this final Sunday of Cheesefare week also has another name and emphasis that I wouldn’t mind working into our church year. It’s also known as Forgiveness Sunday.
For the Eastern Church, Lent is a mediation on being liberated from sin, and this process of liberation has two conditions. The first is fasting, where we cleanse our bodies, and the second is forgiveness, where we cleanse our hearts and souls. At Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday, the congregation is invited to bow prostrate in front of each other and ask for forgiveness. It is in this act of reconciliation and love that the church begins their Lenten journey together.
However you choose to observe this final Sunday before we begin our Lenten journey, I hope you’ll observe it with us. And while we may not call it thus, I hope—like every Sunday together—it will be a time of forgiveness and love.