After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the
east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the
Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
--Matthew 2:1-2 NIV
As I have shared, I grew up Southern Baptist, a tradition that was suspicious of church tradition, especially anything that seemed “Catholic.” Churches that focused on things like liturgy, ritual and tradition were misguided and taught a salvation by works rather than by faith. Never mind that just like every other Christian denomination, they had their own rituals and traditions that never varied year to year, such as the altar call, the prayers by deacons that all sounded the same and special Sundays. Growing up Baptist meant I didn’t really know anything about the liturgical or worship calendar used by many other denominations. I didn’t know what I was missing out on.
Beginning in the 1800’s, some Protestant churches began rediscovering the long history of Christian worship and began drawing on it to promote Christian unity. Some within our own denomination, The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, who were committed to building ties among the ever-growing list of denominations latched onto this emphasis upon common worship. The thinking goes that if churches of different kinds are emphasizing certain scriptures, songs and traditions at the same time each year, then they are more likely to find common ground together. Contemporary ecumenical gatherings such as Ash Wednesday, Easter sunrise or Thanksgiving services are the results of this common emphasis upon church seasons.
The liturgical or worship calendar operates separately from our secular calendar which runs January through December. Instead, the liturgical calendar begins on the First Sunday of Advent which takes place four Sundays prior to Christmas and runs until roughly mid- to late November. Here are the seasons:
When--the four Sundays prior to Christmas
Color--purple symbolizing royalty or blue symbolizing the night sky in which the angels appeared
Emphasis-- preparation for Christmas, preparation for Christ’s second coming
When--like the song says, it lasts for twelve days beginning on Christmas Day
Color--white symbolizing Christ as the light of the world
Emphasis--the Christmas story (Nativity) and Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of God
When--beginning on January 6 it lasts until Ash Wednesday
Color--white symbolizing Christ as the light of the world
Emphasis--the Magi visiting the child Jesus, the Baptism of Jesus, stories of Christ appearing in sudden ways, ending with Christ’s Transfiguration
When--begins on Ash Wednesday and runs for 40 days (not counting Sundays)
Color--purple emphasizing Christ’s royalty
Emphasis-- Holy Week (seven days prior to Easter including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday), repentance and preparation for Easter
When--50 day period beginning with Easter Sunday running until Pentecost Sunday
Color--white emphasizing the resurrected Christ
Emphasis--celebrating the resurrection of Christ and Christ’s presence in the world
When--50 days after Easter
Color--red symbolizing the tongues of fire that came upon the apostles
Emphasis--commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2 and the establishment of the church
Season After Pentecost (ordinary time)
When--runs from Pentecost Sunday until the beginning of Advent (usually late May or early June until mid to late November)
Color--green symbolizing the world and God’s presence in it
Emphasis--how God works in our world today especially through the church
For me, observing the church year has been a way of thinking about the story of Christ all year long. One begins thinking about the expectation of a messiah in Advent, celebrates Emanuel or “God with us” at Christmas, remember Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry during Epiphany, commemorate Jesus’ suffering and death during Lent and Holy Week, rejoice at Christ’s resurrection during Easter and emphasize the presence of Christ made known in the Holy Spirit and in the church at Pentecost and the Sundays afterward. There is no commandment in scripture that we focus upon these seasons, but as we observe them in our worship we are focusing upon the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ as taught to us in scripture.
I grew up with every Sunday more or less being the same. Except for Christmas and Easter Sundays, there wasn’t much different week to week. What I didn’t know I was missing was a rich tradition shared by Christians around the world involving the different seasons of the church year. Some of the most beautiful music, art, poetry and drama ever made was created to go along with these different seasons. More than anything, what I’ve learned is that my experience of God has grown deeper by observing each season.
In a time, where our work weeks have become 24-7 thanks to technology, where more of us focus our attention on screens than the changing of the seasons out our windows, when most people in the US don’t even take their allotted vacation days, the calendar of the church offers us a break in our non-stop intake of electronic stimulation. We can focus on a different story, a story deeper and more true than other stories, a story of God’s love as made known in Jesus Christ.
This Sunday we will celebrate Epiphany by focusing on the Magi visiting the child Jesus as told in Matthew chapter 2. I’ll share more about this special Sunday in tomorrow’s email, but feel free to get a jump start by reading Matthew 2 on your own.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851