The Church Calendar & Our New Sermon Series
This Sunday, we began our new sermon series: “His Church.” Throughout the series, we want to look at what it means to be a part of Christ’s Church, answering questions surrounding the church’s identity and practice. Questions like:
What is the church and why does it exist?
Why do we gather on Sundays for worship?
What do we believe about the sacraments?
Why do we have elders and church membership?
Our hope is that in answering these questions (and others) we can better understand not only what we do as a church but also why we do those things. Of course, there is never a bad time to talk about the church’s mission and practices, but the timing of the series, for us, is intentional. And it has, at least in part, something to do with the church calendar.
The Church Calendar
The church calendar developed in the life of the early church over 1,500 years ago as a way to help engage with the story of the Gospel. By orienting the church’s annual rhythms and practices around the narrative of Scripture, they were continually drawn back into that narrative time and again in fresh ways.
You may or may not have grown up in a tradition that followed the church calendar, so depending on your background, you might envision different things when you hear it mentioned. Most of us, though, have at least in part followed the calendar by celebrating Christmas and Easter, both of which have their respective dates due to their place in the calendar as a whole. In any case, the calendar doesn’t exist as something that needs to be followed legalistically—down to the exact dates and specifics. However, neither is it something that ought to be discounted as merely ritualistic. In other words, we don’t need to be dogmatic about it, nor should we completely disregard something that has historically edified and unified the church. That said, here are the basics of the calendar and how they help not only tell the story of the Gospel but actually place us into the story throughout the year.
The calendar begins with Advent. From the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming,” Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. As we “wait for” Christmas, we identify with Israel as they waited in anticipation for the first advent of Jesus—his birth—while also remembering our own anticipation for his second advent—his return.
After Advent comes Epiphany, a season focused on the revelation of who Jesus truly is and what his plan of redemption is for the nations. Oftentimes this season is associated with the visit of the Magi, where we see that even those from outside of Israel recognize Jesus as the true King. Epiphany is meant to provide an opportunity to have renewed clarification of who Jesus is and, in turn, renewed commitment to him.
Lent (and Holy Week)
Then comes Lent, a 40 day period that culminates in the events of Holy Week. Lent is about more than giving up sweets or social media; it’s a season that’s meant to reflect the temptations and sufferings of Jesus and remind us that we now are also called to identify with him in those things. Just as Jesus refused temptation and died as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, we too are meant to fight temptation and die to sin ourselves.
Of course, suffering and death are not the end of the story! Holy Week leads up to Easter, a commemoration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death itself. And it’s a time for us to remember our true hope: resurrected life in Christ. Just as Christmas finds itself within the context of a larger period, the same has historically been true of Easter. Easter Sunday, then, is the beginning of an extended period of celebration centered on the victory of Christ and the victory we share in him.
Fifty days after Jesus resurrected, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit indwells his followers—the church—and equips them to walk in the resurrection life of new creation that was achieved in Jesus’ resurrection. As the final season of the calendar, Pentecost gives the church an opportunity to reflect on what it means to live by the power of the Spirit.
The period of time from Pentecost to the following Advent is known as “ordinary time.” Though perhaps not excitingly named, the season is hardly a “break” from the calendar but rather the “result” of the calendar. Ordinary Time is an opportunity for the church to step into the mission that flows from the new life and power accomplished by the events of Easter and Pentecost. As new creations and in the power of the Spirit, the church then lives out its identity in the “ordinary” aspects of life—our jobs, our families, our communities, etc.
Again, the point of the church calendar is not to prescribe exact schedules and dates as much as provide general rhythms of emphasis and context in the life of the church. As we find ways to embed ourselves into the story of the Gospel throughout the year, we have the opportunity to recapture a vision for our place in that story. And that is, at least in part, why we wanted to begin this series on the Church this week.
As mentioned above, Easter has been traditionally celebrated not just as a day but as a season—a season that emphasizes the new life that we have in Christ and that looks ahead to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, the season of Easter (or, “Eastertide”) is meant to help the church ask the question: “What does it look like to live in light of the empty tomb?” In his resurrection, Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God here on Earth—a Kingdom that the church lives as citizens of. And so as we celebrate the conquering of death and launching of God’s new creation in that Kingdom, we’re compelled to reflect on what it looks like to live in that Kingdom. How do we, as the citizens of the Kingdom of God, live out that citizenship in the present? After all, that’s what the life of the church is: rehearsing the coming Kingdom of God here and now for the world to see!
Easter reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus isn’t the end of the story of God’s work of redemption but rather the beginning of a new chapter in that story. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus intends to continue his ministry through his church (Acts 1:7-8). Indwelt by the very Spirit of Christ himself, the church becomes the place where the presence and power of Jesus exist on Earth. What a magnificent calling and privilege!
That’s why we want to take the time to dive into the important questions surrounding life in the church. Addressing who we are and what we do isn’t simply a matter of ministry philosophy; it’s a matter of living out our role in the story of God reconciling all things to himself in Christ Jesus. And so it is our hope that over the next few months, this series will provide both clarity and confidence—clarity on what is is that we’ve been called into as a part of His Church and confidence that what we do as His Church is worth giving our lives to.