The Church Year – ‘The Story We Find Ourselves In‘
As liturgical Christians, we orient our lives and calendars around the story of God and God’s people given to us in Holy Scripture and culminating in the story of the coming of God in Jesus Christ (Gospel). This is, as Christian writer Brian McLaren says ‘The Story we Find Ourselves In.’ The story of God re-orders everything, including the way we view time.
The Church/Liturgical Year is our annual cycle of ‘story telling’ the birth, life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, for the life of the world. We tell the story of Jesus in course during each Church Year season, sharing chapters of the story in course, each and every Sunday. The Church Year in western usage is also ‘color coded,’ providing a visual/artistic palate for each season.
Advent (blue) is the season of hope and expectation toward the coming birth of Jesus, while also looking ahead with seriousness and introspection about the end of time when Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. The use of blue in Advent is also related to the use of blue as the color for the Virgin Mary and the deep and abiding hope of Incarnation. The use of blue began in the ‘Sarum rite’ of Salsibury Cathedral in England. Blue is also used in Lutheran churches in Scandanavia and in North America. The use of blue instead of purple more clearly distinguishes Advent from Lent. Many Anglican/Episcopal churches continue to use purple, but a growing number are changing to blue.
Christmasstide(white/gold) is a twelve days time of journeying with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, animals and angels to experience the birth/ incarnation of Jesus.
Ordinary Time/ Season after the Epiphany/ (green) This is the season of Light, as reflected in the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus and in the story of Jesus’ baptism (photosmos/enlightenment). The word Epiphany means ‘ to shine upon/ to be illuminated.’ It explores the revelation of Jesus’ mission being made known to the world. The Day of the Epiphany is the first segment of Ordinary Time, where we remember all Jesus’ work and teachings.
Lent(purple) starts on Ash Wednesday and culminating in Holy Week. The word Lent means ‘spring.’ Lent is a time of preparation, repentance, introspection and renewal, as we journey with Jesus to his Passion/Crucifixion and towards his Resurrection. Lent is 40 day period (the number of days the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness and one day for each year the people of Israel wandered in the desert). There are either four or five Sunday in Lent yet Lents 40 days do not includes Sundays because every Sunday is a feast day celebrating the Resurrection.
Holy Week(scarlet) is the holiest time of the church year, beginning on Palm/Passion Sunday and leading up to the Vigil of Easter and Easter Day. Holy Week is a time for prayer, fasting, confession, reflection and works of charity. It begins with Palm Sunday, and included Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. It does not include Easter Sunday.
Easter(white/gold) is the culmination of the Christian Year and story, staring with the Vigil of Easter, the principle festival for baptizing new Christians. Easter season is a 50 day celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus and time for mystagogy (reflecting with new converts/the newly baptized on the meaning of the resurrection for living a Christian life in the world).
Day of Pentecost (red) is the completion of Easter, the day when the promised gift of Jesus’ Spirit is showered upon believers to guide them into truth and empower them for God’s mission in and for the world.
Ordinary Time / after Pentecost (green) begins with Trinity Sunday, is the longest season of the Church Year where we explore the growth and development of the church in mission.
Why we live the Church Year.
It enables us to live within God’s Story. Church Year spirituality forms us around the story of redemption in Christ. It does not focus on “principles” or “steps” or “programs”of spiritual growth. It is Jesus-shaped helps us align our personal and communal stories to the story of Christ. As Israel was formed by their story of slavery, redemption, covenant and Land of Promise, so the New Covenant community of the church is formed by the story of Jesus the Christ.
It keeps the central thing central. Church Year spirituality is Christ-centered. It is shaped around the events of his incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of his Spirit. During each season we see, hear nd follow Jesus.
It recognizes that your calendar forms your life. Church Year Spirituality is temporal eternal, in that day to day and season to season its patterns old our character and 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 forms our habits around following Christ. We are in sync with the early disciples, walking 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 and community. Church Year Spirituality recognizes both the individual journey and the corporate pilgrimage. What happens on Sundays is of a part with what happens during the week as our corporate worship and our daily lives as individuals 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. We celebrate this throughout the year when churches of various traditions celebrate the Church Year and align their worship and practices to it.