Traditionally this Sunday is/was Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent. The modern calendar, however, continues the Epiphany season through these final weeks, all the way to Ash Wednesday. What’s interesting is that some of the Collects for these final Sundays are lifted from the traditional Lent and Pre-Lent observances. This week’s Collect, for example, Epiphany VI, is as follows:
Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Traditionally this was the Collect appointed for Lent V, or Passion Sunday. Compare this to the Good Friday Collect and you’ll see a very similar prayer: “behold this your people O Lord…”
This was no accident: Passion Sunday (Lent 5) was the beginning of Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, which direct our attentions to the suffering and death of Jesus. Lent 5, being the Sunday immediately before Palm Sunday, provided something of a theological background to prepare the worshiper for Palm Sunday, by exploring the concept of sacrificial atonement such as found in Hebrews chapter 9. Good Friday, being the intensification of Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Passiontide, naturally brings the some sort of prayerful approach as Lent 5.
But now we have that Collect here on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany. Although diminished in effect by being so much farther away from Good Friday, it can still be a signal for us that something different is coming. Instead of hailing the beginning of Passiontide like it did at Lent 5, it now hails the approach of Lent, giving us a foretaste, an echo back in time, of the Good Friday subject: may God graciously look upon his people and govern and preserve us evermore.