Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Church Calendar

Reformation is exciting. Recovering the treasures of our fathers and grandfathers in the faith is encouraging and heartening. And one of those great treasures is the Church Year.

Many believers in many different denominations and traditions are recovering the Church Year. While there remains a good deal of caution among Protestants regarding the lingering connotations of abuses from medieval Roman Catholicism with the Church Calendar, Presbyterians are celebrating Advent. Baptists are describing the richness of Lent. Christmas and Easter, the two "High Holy Days" of American Christianity are receiving even more thoughtful and robust celebration.

And while I would want to be counted among those who share some concerns, I am also supportive of the overall project. On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule time, keeping track of days, months, seasons, and years. In the New Covenant, we are not under those rulers any more. This is because we have been seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Christ and by the working of His Holy Spirit, the promise that was made to Abraham that his descendants would by like the "stars of the heavens" has been fulfilled. In other words, we are no longer under the sun, moon, and stars because we have been enthroned with Jesus in the new heavens of the Church. We have been made kings and priests to our God. In Christ, we are the new rulers of time.

And keeping time is inevitable. There will be rhythms, there will be names, there will be holy days. The only question is what will they be? Will our "high holy days" be 4th of July, Super Bowl Sunday, and Memorial Day? Or will our lives be tuned by the life of Christ and the work of the Spirit in history?

Christians are free to celebrate any of these civil or cultural holidays, but our freedom is most fully realized in grateful worship and praise. The church calendar, understood rightly, is just a way of organizing our worship, a liturgy for time. Just as it is permissible, even necessary for pastors or worship leaders to decide which hymns to sing at which point in the service, when to confess sins, when to remind people of their forgiveness, etc., so too the church calendar is a way of organizing our prayers and songs and praise.

While I might throw out any number of provisos, let me just mention one here: If you are new to the church calendar and you think it's a good idea, your temptation is to jump into the deep end with your clothes on without taking swimming lessons. Or to change the metaphor, there tends to be a "cage stage" for most new ideas. The new idea is your brand new hammer and everything looks like a nail. So the encouragement is to wade in from the shallow end. So for example, if you just realized that we just began Lent, good for you. But don't freak out and swear off the next three days of meals in an effort to "get caught up" or make your kids give up cookies and candy for the next six weeks so they can suffer with you. That only teaches your kids that you are erratic and headstrong, and it will probably frustrate and confuse them more than anything. Maybe just start with reading through an entire gospel with your family over the next six weeks. Find some hymns and psalms that focus on the coming of the Messiah and His sufferings and death on the cross. Read a biography of a saint, a martyr, or a missionary, and think, pray, and discuss what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

We've encouraged our folks to consider various avenues of ministry or evangelism. Spend some time befriending some folks at a local nursing home, invite your neighbors over for dinner, look for an opportunity to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Start small, start genuine. Don't stress about the details. And as you use these days and weeks and months and years to celebrate the forgiveness and freedom you have in Christ, your traditions will grow up like glorious memorials. And that's really what we want: we want the life of Christ plastered all of our lives.

And here are some resources for thinking through the church calendar as well as Lent in particular:

Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church Joint Statement on Holy Days

Is the Church Year Biblical? By Jeff Meyers

The Season of Lent Guide by Elliot Grudem & Bruce Benedict

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan

Lenten Meditations by Randy Booth

Several of these and more are available here at Cardiphonia.

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