In the Fourth Nocturn

Daily Office reflection: Septuagesima

This week, Septuagesima, marks the beginning of our solemn preparations for Lent, in which the Church asks us to consider the disciplines we will impose on ourselves throughout the coming period of fasting.

Since ancient times it has been the practice of the Church to begin reading the book of Genesis in Septuagesima, as we have done this week. We usually consider God’s creation to be a joyful thing which we celebrate and give thanks for, for instance in Psalm 100 at morning prayer: ‘O be joyful in the Lord’; ‘it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves’; ‘be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name’. Reading Genesis reminds us that, for all we rightly celebrate God’s rôle in it, the actual story of creation is, thanks to us humans, not a happy one. The first thing that the Bible tells us about ourselves as humans is that we are made in God’s image and likeness, but almost as soon as it has done that, it dedicates almost the whole of two books to showing how humans dishonoured the image of God within us. And it doesn’t get much better from there.

Reading Genesis reminds us always of our nature: that by the grace of God we are endued with reason and free will and conscience, and yet we have used and will always use these tools to rebel against him, the very God who gave them to us. Reading them at this time of year calls us to remember that we are made in God’s image, and to think of ways that we can turn away from rebellion and honour that image within ourselves.

Beginning Genesis also serves another purpose. Genesis is the story of the creation of life, and its protection through the adversities of flood and famine. In preparing for Lent we prepare also for Easter, the festival of new life. As we call to mind the sins of old, Gesimatide asks us to plant the seed of new life within ourselves, and to nurture that seed throughout Lent. If we do so, then we are rewarded with a great feast, in which that seed is raised up inside us, and we are reminded that though we can never be perfect in earth, at the end of our days here, God will forgive us, cast away our sinfulness, and finally perfect our image in the body of Christ. Amen.

The Collect for Septuagesima

O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences,1 may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name — through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

  1. ‘qui juste pro peccatis nostris affligimur’; that is, not ‘castigamur’ or ‘poenimur’.