September 21, 2014

Another Look: Church Year Spirituality

(From Nov. 2010 and updated)

Tomorrow is the first Lord’s Day in the Church’s Liturgical Year. On Sunday, Christians who follow this calendar will begin a new year of living in the Gospel with the commencement of Advent.

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 together to form their spiritual lives — their walk with God through Christ — around the liturgical year.

Five Reasons to Practice Church Year Spirituality

  • It 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.

Marking the Liturgical Year is a salutary way for Christians, families, small groups, and congregations to walk with Jesus over the course of the 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)

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 If you would like to read the entire series for which this post was the introduction, here are the links:

 

Comments

  1. Steve Newell says:

    I did not grow up in a church that followed the historic church year. There was Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter. After that, all Sundays were the same.

    When you combine the church year with the lectionary it adds a depth to understand the Christian faith that was missing.

  2. Welcome back, CM! Hope you got some down time.
    Wasn’t there some sort of Advent.com group blog that went on last year or something? I can’t seem to find it, but I really enjoyed that.

  3. As for why some seem to need “to reinvent the wheel,” surely it has nothing to do with the need of the so-called Christian publishing industry to make money.

    • Thank you for your excellent reintroduction to Monk readers, or introduction as it may be, of the Liturgical Church year calendar. Missing from the chart are the most important days of Holy Week, the Triduum, the three days beginning with the Last Supper, continuing through Good Friday services until the beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday.

      For Catholics this period is a distinct season within Lent when we contemplate the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, his death on the cross, and that period between his death and resurrection. The time includes stricter observation of fasting and abstinence. Within this period some individual churches hold the Tre Ore service. These 3 hours, beginning at noon Friday and ending at the Holy Hour of 3 PM, are not a mass but consist of music, spoken presentations, and prayers meditating on each of the seven last words of Christ.

      For me the Triduum has provided the essential framework to Holy Week and ensures we do not lose sight of Jesus’ sacrifice and death, in the progression from Palm Sunday to Easter. The Triduum has a special meaning for me each year in my walk. I would encourage those not familiar with the Tre Ore to consider attending one next Holy Week

      Tom

  4. Outstanding article! I didn’t grow up with the Christian Year, so I’ve been playing catch up for a while. It’s almost like learning a new language. Can you suggest any books regarding the Christian Year?

    • “Great Lent: Journey to Pascha”

      This is specifically centered around the eastern christian year, but the principles remain and are helpful.

    • First of all Welcome back Chaplin Mike. I hope you feel somewhat refreshed.

      Christopher ~ last year Pastor Mike recommended some books and I purchased two of them. My favorite one is by Joan Chittister titled, “The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life.” I found it to be a lively, joyful, vibrant book (much to my surprise!) that truly did show me the joy of living the Liturgical Year.

      The other is by Bobby Gross titled, “Living the Christian Year” I was curious about this one as the author came from a non-liturgical church background so I thought his view of the Church year would be interesting. It was but frankly I like Joan Chittister’s book better.

  5. Other than, of course, the one listed. :)

  6. As a pastor, another reason I love the church calendar spirituality is that it holds me accountable to a proper balance in my exposition of the scriptures. As an independent Evangelical, I grew up in churches that prided themselves in going verse by verse through large swaths of scripture. As a result, we could be in Romans for 3 years, without exposing ourselves to the gospel meta-narrative. Now, I’m “forced” (gladly, I might add) to spend some time each year speaking of Christ’s return, His incarnation, His life and ministry, the cross, the resurrection, and the establishment of the church! That rhythm is SO important to me, and to our body.

    • As a cradle Catholic, I grew up with the Church year, so it is as natural to me as walking. What struck me as a child is how much this calendar was in alignment with the world’s calendar and seasons. Darkness in winter with lights to break through, Easter in a blaze of newly-blooming and growing earth…it all made sense to me.

      Which is probably the reason that several years in the Far East disturbed my sense of this link between Church and earth…..not only was it hot all of the time, what minimal season changes existed were “backwards”. Like our friends in Oz, I got used to going to the beach on Christmas and getting out the jackets for Easter, but I was glad to get back to the northern hemisphere!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        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.

        And, as Pattie pointed out, it has a natural feel to it, in harmony with the change of seasons (at least in the region of the world where it was developed).

        The Liturgical Year has had well over a thousand years to shake down and be debugged. That’s the advantage of a Church with an institutional memory.