One of the things that I have wanted to do for several years now is to write about the church year. I have written about it from time to time, but I wanted to make it a Wednesday feature. This feature will look at the various aspects of the church year – primarily the seasons but also much of the symbolism. I wanted to do this in my current context of being the lead pastor of our church, instead of the worship person.
For those of you who don’t know, just like we have a calendar that runs from January to December and we mark the seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall – just as we have fiscal calendars in the church – the church has a calendar that is based on seasons – not the meteorological seasons but the church seasons. These seasons are based on the life of Jesus. The church has been following these seasons since around the 5th century. In the Wesleyan church, we have not typically followed the church year except for Christmas and Easter. Around 20 to 30 years ago, Advent was introduced, mainly with the Advent candles and it tends to be an introduction to Christmas. Over the last 10 to 15 years, I have seen an interest in Lent. I had always heard about Lent but dismissed it – as many do now – as a Catholic thing. What I have discovered is that it is much more. Lent is simply the Latin word for Spring – but it has a much more deeper meaning than that.
I do find it interesting that for a church that believes in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have essentially ignored Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit came upon the church and gave them the power to live holy lives and perform acts of service. Usually Pentecost gets ignored because of Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or now Graduation Day. Not that there is anything wrong with celebrating those days – but Pentecost is important.
As I’ve mentioned, the church year is divided into seasons:
- Advent – the season of Advent starts off the church year. We are most familiar with the advent wreath and the candles – more about this next week when we talk about Advent in more detail. Advent is a season of preparation for the arrival of Jesus. The word Advent means “arrival.” During this season we prepare our hearts – we prepare our hearts fot Christ’s first advent – when he was placed in a manger in Bethlehem – and we prepare our hearts for Christ’s second advent – an arrival that was promised 2,000 years ago. For over 2,000 years Christians have been awaiting the arrival of the second coming of Jesus – when Jesus splits the eastern sky and gathers his people and takes them home. Advent is the first of two seasons of preparation – both seasons are designated by the color purple – which symbolizes penitence. Over recent decades however, there is a trend to use blue for advent which symbolizes the royalty of the coming King Jesus.
- Christmas – This is a twelve day season from December 25 (for many December 24 would also be considered to be in the season of Christmas. This is a celebration season. The two primary celebration seasons are designated by white – the color which symbolizes purity and Jesus. We celebrate that Jesus is Emmanuel – God in the flesh who came to dwell among his creation. We call this the Incarnation. Christmas lasts from December 25 to January 5 – and thus the song the Twelve Days of Christmas – meaning the twelve days after – not before. Christmas has a minor feast day – called Holy Name of Jesus. It would have been the day that Jesus was circumcised and given his name.
- Epiphany – Epiphany falls on January 6th. It is the celebration of when the Magi (or Wise Men) came to visit Jesus. Some traditions celebrate it with King’s Cake – which has a miniature baby baked into it. The Magi brought three gifts on their visit to the Christ child. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Gold denotes that Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense denotes that Jesus is the great High Priest. Myrrh shows us that Jesus will die for our sins. The word Epiphany designates an “a-ha” moment. It is that moment when the lights come on. It is also designated by the color white. Epiphany shows us that Jesus was born for the whole world and that he has been made manifest to the whole world.
- Ordinary Time – following Epiphany we come into our first section of Ordinary Time. As I’ve said before, Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. It actually comes from the word “ordinal” which means counted time. During this season we “count” the Sundays after Epiphany. There are several major days during this season. The first is the Baptism of Jesus, which falls on the first Sunday after Epiphany. We are reminded that Jesus was baptized – perhaps to show that he was one of us – meaning that while he was still divine – he was still fully human. He identified with us. The second major day is Transfiguration Sunday. This Sunday falls on the last Sunday before Lent. For the majority of the season the color is green – signifying growth – however on this two major Sundays, the color is white – again, symbolizing Jesus and his purity.
- Lent – begins the next season, and as I’ve already mentioned, Lent is the Latin word for Spring. I love the season of Lent because it reminds us that we are human – we are not God and that we are all in need of revival. I often refer to Lent as spring training for believers. It is a time of preparation – 40 days – (remember Advent) for Easter. It’s color is purple – it is a somber season as we remember that we are sinners saved by grace. Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of leading an Ash Wednesday Service. This reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will return. It is a time when we deal with our sins. We always read Psalm 51 – David’s confession following his sin with Bathsheba. Lent leads us into what I believe is the most powerful part of the church year.
- Holy Week – This week goes from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. During this week, we are reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus paid for us. At the end of the week, there are several opportunities for worship. Maundy Thursday, which gets its name from the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples at that last Passover meal. Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another. We have done various options on Maundy Thursday – all which are very meaningful. Good Friday is also another powerful day – it is the day that we remember that Jesus died. I think it is important to remember that Jesus died – I love the somber worship of Good Friday. Too many believers want to skip right to Easter Sunday – but we need – like the disciples did – to wait in silence. For one I think it makes the celebration on Sunday so much more. Holy week uses scarlet – symbolizing the blood that was shed for our sins.
- Easter – Really the ultimate celebration of the church year. It is a 50 day season – not just one day. We celebrate that Jesus rose from the grave – the ultimate conquerer. Jesus conquered sin, death, hell, and the grave. For the Sunday’s following Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Why keep such a celebration to one day. As you can see the color is Gold – symbolizing the King of Kings – on the subsequent Sundays, we use white – again the color of Jesus.
- Pentecost – 50 days after Easter we celebrate the birthday of the church. The Holy Spirit came upon the church in Jerusalem and the world has never been the same.
- Ordinary Time – This brings us to another much longer season of Ordinary Time. Again we are not preparing – not celebrating – but simply growing – growing in Christ. This season of Ordinary time counts as the season after Pentecost. The first Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is also All Saints Sunday – November 1 – where we remember those who have gone on before – think the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12. The last Sunday of the church year is Reign of Christ Sunday. It is similar to Easter in that we celebrate Jesus eternal reign. We celebrate His Lordship. It is a great way to end the year and bring us back to Advent where we remember he is coming again to reign.
That is the church year in a nutshell. Over the next few Wednesdays, we will look at Advent in more detail.