April 28, 2017

Preparing for the New Church Year (1)

The Advent and Triumph of Christ, Memling

The Advent and Triumph of Christ, Memling

Note from CM: In 2010, we did a series on “Church Year Spirituality.” November is the month when we complete the annual liturgical cycle and prepare for a new Church Year, which begins the first Sunday in Advent (Nov. 30 this year). For the next four Sundays, I will run these posts again to help those of us who follow the cycle prepare for marking sacred time in the year to come. For those who are unfamiliar with this practice, or who wish to learn more about it, I hope these posts will be informative and encouraging.

• • •

Christians who follow the liturgical calendar will begin a new year of living in the Gospel with the commencement of Advent on Nov. 30.

The diagram on the right gives an overview of the annual Church calendar.

  • Advent is the season when we prepare for Christ’s coming. (4 weeks)
  • Christmastide is the season when we celebrate Christ’s incarnation. (12 days)
  • In Epiphany, we remember how Christ made God’s glory known to the world. (up to 9 weeks)
  • The Lenten season leads us to the Cross, the climactic event in Holy Week, which concludes Lent. (40 days plus Sundays)
  • Eastertide (the Great 50 Days) celebrates Christ’s resurrection, new life, and his ascension to glory. It concludes on the 50th day, Pentecost, the day of the Spirit’s outpouring.
  • The Season after Pentecost (or Trinity, or Ordinary Time) is the time of the church, when by the Spirit we live out the life of the Gospel in community and in the world. (up to 29 weeks)

I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius. It is simple enough for a child. It offers enough opportunities for creativity and flexibility that it need never grow old. Each year offers a wonderful template for learning to walk with Christ more deeply in the Gospel which brings us faith, hope, and love.

My favorite book on church year spirituality is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Here is his summary of the subject:

Ancient-Future Time presents the historical understanding of the Christian year as life lived in the pattern of death and resurrection with Christ. This spiritual tradition was developed in the early church and has been passed down in history through the worship of the church. It enjoys biblical sanction, historical staying power, and contemporary relevance. Through Christian-year spirituality we are enabled to experience the biblical mandate of conforming to Christ. The Christian year orders our formation with Christ incarnate in his ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and coming again through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. In Christian-year spirituality we are spiritually formed by recalling and entering into his great saving events. (p. 21f)

In today’s post I will merely list five primary reasons why I think it advantageous for Christians to form their spiritual lives — their walk with God through Christ — around the liturgical year. Then, throughout the month on subsequent Sundays, we will take these points and expand upon them. We will continue exploring and discussing this over the next two weeks as we prepare for our new Church Year to begin on Nov. 30.

Five Reasons to Practice Church Year Spirituality

  • 2011_0911001It enables us to live in God’s Story. Church Year spirituality forms Christian people around the story of redemption in Christ. It does not focus on “principles” or “steps” or “programs” for spiritual growth. It is thoroughly Jesus-shaped and uses the biblical story to conform our lives to his. As Israel was shaped by their story of slavery, redemption, covenant, and Promised Land, so the New Israel is formed by the story of Messiah.
  • It keeps the main thing the main thing. Church Year spirituality is Christ-centered. It is shaped around the events of his incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of his Spirit. At every turn we see Jesus, we hear Jesus, we follow Jesus.
  • It recognizes that one’s calendar forms one’s life. Church Year Spirituality is down-to-earth, utterly realistic about the day to day, season to season patterns of life that shape our behavior. All our lives we have developed habits by the way we mark and use our time. A spirituality formed around the Church Year is designed to form our habits around following Jesus. We take the place of disciples, and walk through the same experiences they had as they lived with Jesus day in and day out, season after season, over the course of three years.
  • It links personal spirituality with worship, family, and community. Church Year Spirituality recognizes both the individual journey and the corporate pilgrimage. What happens on Sundays is of a piece with what happens during the week as our corporate worship and our daily lives as individuals and families are shaped around the story of Jesus.
  • It provides a basis of unity and common experience for Christians everywhere. Our unity with other Christians is in the Gospel story. This is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and the other creeds of the church. Propositional doctrinal statements have their place as ways to express more detailed understandings of the meaning and significance of God’s saving acts, but our unity with other believers is in Christ. We celebrate this throughout the year when churches of various traditions and denominations celebrate the Church Year and conform their worship and congregational lives to it.

This is by way of introduction. On the Sundays to come, we will examine these points and other matters related to marking the Christian Year.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:38-39)

It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28)

Comments

  1. I like your description of the time after Pentecost, but is has always felt like a no-man’s land: no preparation nor anticipation, just sojourning. Then Christ the King Sunday seems to appear out of nowhere to usher in the Advent season. There are important feast which occur during the after-Pentecost season, like the Triumph of the Cross (all Lutherans have yet another excuse to sing “Lift High the Cross”); significant saint obvervances appear during that time, like Peter and Paul.

    For the protestant, there are no obligatory obvervances nor merits/indulgences bestowed; I’ve already got my golden ticket, so I don’t have to do anything. This is what robs protestants of the beauty of the liturgical year. Perhaps the “merit” of obvservance is discovered through spiritual formation, which again seems optional for protestants.

    I have found the church calendar, coupled with the lectionary, gives important context for personal devotional time, especially through following a liturgy of the hours.

  2. We teach our little guys (3-6) this song. It’s fun to see them singing it as they work out the order of the liturgical colors and then the liturgical calendar. Often the older kids (6-9) hmm it as they work out the other feasts that fall into the calendar.

    Catechesis of the Good Shepherd song: “The Liturgical Colors Song” by Holly Tosco.

    Purple and green…red and white are the colors of the year.
    Purple and green…red and white remind us of the light.
    Purple is for preparation;
    white is for celebration;
    green is for the growing time,
    red is for Pentecost.
    Purple and green…red and white are the colors of the year.
    Purple and green…red and white remind us of the light.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “We teach our little guys”

      Exactly. And if we do not teach “the little guys” they will most likely have nothing later. This is incumbent on any church that believes in the baptism of infants. This is part of the promise that we as parents, pastor, and congregation make before the entire church. In some faith traditions the promises or commitments are more comprehensive than in others, but it places a heavy and wonderful obligation on all of us.

      • If what I’ve observed in mainline liturgical churches is typical, it’s a heavy and wonderful obligation that has not often been met.

      • We take the obligation to pass on the tradition. But much more importantly, we take the obligation to help our children own their Baptismal Covenant by having a mature faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, God as the Father of all, and the Holy Spirit as the empower of the saints of God.

        The first time I heard the song I was so impressed that it pointed to “the light.” It could have easily just told us the colors of the year. But it pushed beyond that to Jesus.

    • Can you fit blue in there? The ELCA has blue as the preferred color for Advent, because it’s supposedly more “hopeful” than purple.

      • Vega Magnus says:

        As far as I can tell as a non-comic fan, in the DC universe emotional spectrum, blue represents hope while violet represents love, so that’s accurate I suppose.

      • The irony is that even though we are a Cathedral we are very poor, and we don’t have any purple altar cloths. We have lovely blue ones circa the 1920’s that we use for Advent and some rough linen ones meant for Holy Week that we use for Lent. It’s a little confusing for our kids.

    • Ev, I’m not familiar with this song. Thanks for exposing me to it. We’re always on the lookout for things our toddler can relate to.

      • If you want to communicate with me about our Atria, please feel free to email me eavice at mindspring.com. There are other songs and practices that we find particularly helpful to form a Christ centered – church-literate children.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And all this will be too ROMISH for Fundagelicals still fighting the Reformation Wars.

    “Unity, community, history, common experience” have no place in a Gospel of Personal Salvation and Only Personal Salvation. Who needs that when you have your Personal Lord And Savior Fire Insurance Policy?

    • Vega Magnus says:

      I came here to make a post similar to that, but you beat me to it. 😀

      In any case, I must admit that this is the first I’ve heard of the liturgical calendar, at least in its entirety.

  4. Kent Haley says:

    Thanks for this Chaplain Mike. I think this is a very good explanation of the church calendar.

  5. Only since going back to the Catholic Church, and more influentially since becoming a visitor at Imonk, have I become really aware of the calendar. It adds to a sense of stability and continuity for sure. There is something in our DNA that responds to these things. It’s why we value ancestry and ages past. It makes us part and parcel and lets us know we are part of something bigger. That’s comforting.

  6. As a Christian, is it okay for me to say, “I can’t believe it’s already Advent again”?

    😉

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I think so; years seem to move slowly at first and then with astonishing speed.

      By the time I am accustomed to typing “2014” instead of “2013” it will be 2015. Argh!

  7. Thanks so much for this. Can anyone recommend a good book for/about advent?

  8. Dana Ames says:

    “Beginnings and Endings (and what happens in between)” by Maggi Dawn – bible readings and great commentary for the Advent to Epiphany (Anglican) lectionary.

    Dana