Last week we looked at the first part of the Church calendar. This week I’d like to finish that thought and consider potential “next steps.”
As mentioned last week, Robert Webber divides the Church calendar into two sections: the “cycle of light” and the “cycle of life.” (See Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time) The cycle of light contains the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany – all of which have some aspect of revelation, or “light shining in the darkness,” (John 1:5) aspect to them. The cycle of life is the result of the cycle of light; you could say it is the manifestation of the revelation. Webber notes,
There is also another way the cycles of light and life are brought together: both follow the pattern of expectation, fulfillment, and proclamation. Advent is expectation, Christmas is fulfillment, and Epiphany is proclamation; Let is expectation, Easter is fulfillment, and Pentecost is proclamation. Thus there is a historical progression into both Christmas and Easter as well as spiritual procession from each. (Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 95)
The Cycle of Life
We begin the cycle of life with Lent. Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a 6 1/2 week journey to the Cross. During this time we embrace Jesus’ call to die to self and rise to life in him. Along with the apostles and disciples, we are encouraged by Jesus to “deny [yourselves], and take up [your] cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Lent can seem like a very dark or morose time, however joy can be found in Lent if we remember, as Webber points out, that it is a time of expectation – the coming fulfillment makes the preparation worth it.
As we participate and lead our congregations through the impositions of ashes on Ash Wednesday, as we read Scriptures that focus on repentance (Psalm 51, for example), and as we explore the various themes and stories from the Bible that are utilized during this season (such as the temptation of Christ, the Samaritan woman, and the raising of Lazarus), we are led into a greater awareness of our dependence on God and our need for a Savior.
Within Lent there is the “sub-season” of Holy Week. This week begins with Palm Sunday (the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, found in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44 and John 12:12-19) and ends with the Paschal Triduum (the “Three Days”: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday). These four days, along with the rest of that week, finish the Lenten journey that has finished with the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Trial, the Crucifixion, and, ultimately, the Burial of Jesus.
Thankfully the story doesn’t end there…
After Lent comes the season of Easter. We are used to thinking of Easter as a one-day occurrence. True, Jesus raised on the third day, however he remained and appeared to the apostles and those followed him for the next 40 days. The season of Easter is a time of celebrating the Resurrection and newness of life in Christ.
Through the lectionaries of different denominations we read stories of Jesus ministering to the two on the road to Emmaus, of Thomas being encouraged, the work of the Good Shepherd, of the paralytic man being healed, of the women who brought spices and oils to the tomb – all people who encountered either the Risen Christ directly or the effects of the Resurrection.
The season of Easter is capped off with another day/”sub-season”: Ascension. Jesus instructs his apostles and disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.
Ten days after Jesus ascends to heaven the apostles and disciples are in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost or Shavuot. As they were together they experienced something like a strong wind and what looked like tongues of fire resting above their heads (see Acts 2). The apostles and disciples began to create such a sound with the utterances they were given that it drew a crowd. Peter stands up, explains what has and is occurring, and 3,000 people come to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah.
After the day of Pentecost we enter into what is usually called Ordinary Time or Common Time. Some people interpret these names as somewhat boring or a turn off. The reality is the proclamation of Pentecost should spill over into this season. Just as the apostles, including Paul, and the other disciples experienced a new freedom and boldness after Pentecost we should operate in a new sense of freedom and boldness during this season.
At this point you may be thinking, “This is great, Bishop, but what do I do with this? How can I get my congregation to go for this? How can I implement this?” I’m glad you asked! 🙂
First, when you engage in the historic practices of the Church, whether baptism, the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, ordinations, even Christmas and Easter, you are stepping into a nearly 2,000 year-old Tradition – one that Christians of all ages, ethnicities, socio-economic levels have observed and participated in.
Second, if following the Church calendar and the Lectionary is something that ministers to your journey of faith own it. Don’t fear it, embrace it. When you decide to implement it in your local context your congregation will be looking to you, part of the leadership, for guidance and encouragement in this venture.
Third, start slow. If you are starting from scratch focus on Christmas and Easter, then bring in Advent and Palm Sunday. Utilize songs, Scripture readings, and prayers (even written ones) that point directly or subtly to the day or season being celebrated. You might even consider observing some of the seasons and major days in a small group (with select people from you congregation); the observations could be done outside the context of the Sunday and mid-week services. Just like the day of Pentecost, it might attract some attention and cause people to be curious!
If you want to read more on the Church calendar I would recommend the following books:
-Chittister. Joan. The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Thomas Nelson, 2010.
-Hickman, Hoyt L., Don E. Saliers, Laurence Hull Stookey, and James F. White. The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Abingdon Press, 1992.
-McGowan, Andrew B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Ch. 7, “Time: Feasts and Fasts”). Baker Academic, 2014/2016.
-Merton, Thomas. Meditations on the Cycle of Litugical Feasts. Ave Maria Press, 2009.
-Stookey, Laurence Hull. Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Abingdon Press, 1996.
-Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Baker Books, 2004.
As this is the last of my guest column series I want to say thank you to Jason Palmer, the administrator and editor of Talking Worship, for this special opportunity. Thank you, the reader, as well for taking the time to journey with me over these past four articles. Please allow me to leave you with the following benediction:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord be with you…
Bishop Ryan Mackey is a guest columnist for TalkingWorship.com. Mackey is Professor of Music History and Technology at Central Christian College of Kansas and an Auxiliary Bishop in Province USA of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. His passions include teaching on and incorporating the historic traditions of the Church in contemporary practices.