Why do we celebrate different seasons in the church? Why not treat every Sunday, and every time of the year the same? Well, first of all, I think it would get a little monotonous, maybe even boring. Just like we observe different days and times in our ‘regular’ year, like birthdays and anniversaries, times to work and times to recreate, we focus on different aspects of our faith and our life as a community during the church year.
One could say the church year reflects the circle of life with all its ups and downs, all things ordinary and extraordinary. For everything, there is a season, it says in the book of Ecclesiastes- and it seems good and important to give each thing in our life its proper time and space.
Now we all know that we live in difficult times. Just this past week we witnessed yet another mass shooting, this time in Northern California. We were reminded that darkness and evil are still at work in this world, and that we are still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises and the coming of the peaceable kingdom. The church year with its observances of different times in the life of Christ, from anticipation to joy to sorrow and death and then joy again, gives us an opportunity to reflect on God’s presence in all the days of our lives. We come together as church to comfort and strengthen each other.
So let us now enter the celebration of this second last Sunday of the church year, by looking back and looking ahead, and by being present in this moment; and by praising God who transcends time and space and all our various life experiences, and who is to be found even in the midst of terror and death.
The church year begins with Advent. Advent means ‘Arrival’, and this is a season to prepare for God’s coming into our lives – not only as the babe in the manger, but as God, three in one, who seeks to touch us in the here and now, and who ultimately will gather us all in the heavenly kingdom. The main theme during the Advent season is hope, and the light that shines in the darkness, and that sin and evil will be overcome. That is why, each Sunday during Advent, we light one more candle – to symbolize that God’s light cannot be overcome, no matter, how dark times seem to be. The mood of Advent is reflective – we are to prepare our heart for God to enter.
The season of Christmas is joyful. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – and we rejoice that God chooses to become one of us, vulnerable and very approachable. God becomes man, the word becomes flesh. Our Savior is born.
After Christmas, which, by the way, lasts for 12 days, AFTER Christmas Day, we enter the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means appearance, or better: glorious appearance – we basically commemorate and celebrate the appearance of God’s glory among us, from the wise men who discover the Son of God as they follow the star, to God’s voice proclaiming Jesus to be God’s Son in baptism, to the time when Jesus is transfigured in glory before his disciples’ eyes. Yes, God became man – but this man is also and always God.
Lent is the time that leads up to Easter and culminates in Holy Week, the week before Easter, during which we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, 40 days of Lent are observed, because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, fasting, praying, and discerning his call and his role as the Son of God. The time of Lent is a similar time for us. As we reflect on the suffering and death of Christ, we are called to discern our role and our ministry in the shadow of the cross. It is a time of prayer, and of sacrifice. Btw, the name Lent comes from an old Germanic word for Spring. Lent literally means lengthening, and Spring respectively Lent is the time when days get longer again and things begin to grow. This reminds us that new life awaits where we sometimes only see bareness and death.
The Easter season starts on Easter Sunday and lasts for 5 weeks. On Easter day, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and God’s victory over death, which includes our death as well, alleluia! Jesus’ resurrection is the most important event we as Christians believe in, and thus Easter, in a sense, is the most important season on our church calendar. Take Easter away, and nothing else has any meaning. The very early Christians realized this, and made Easter the very first holy day on the Christian calendar. Our faith stands and falls with Easter. It is a season to rejoice and to celebrate life.
Pentecost signifies the coming of God’s Holy Spirit among the disciples. Were the disciples discouraged and without orientation in the days following Jesus’ resurrection – God’s Spirit, the breath of life, moved them out of hiding and into the places where the proclamation of Christ in word and deed was needed. God’s Spirit is still moving and shaking us today, encouraging us, breathing life into the ministry we share. Through the Spirit, God is with us, always. In a sense, the celebration of Easter continues on Pentecost Day.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s manifestation as the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is complete. We celebrate God, three in one and one in three, who reaches out to us in many different ways. God is a relational God, and this we commemorate and celebrate on Trinity Sunday. And we confess this mystery of the triune God every time we confess our faith.
After Trinity Sunday, we enter the long season after Pentecost, also called the ordinary time, which lasts into November. The only standout Sundays, if you will, during this season are Reformation Sunday in late October and All Saints Sunday in early November. However, most Sundays are quite ordinary in the sense that we don’t have special celebrations or commemorations. The ordinary time on our church calendar is a reminder that God comes to us even, and maybe even especially, in and through the ordinary, like through prayer and wine and bread. Yes, it is important to have special times of reflection, and celebration – but God is with us, every day, ordinary or extraordinary. And we are reminded that it doesn’t take extraordinary things to fulfill our call, but that simple acts of love and justice are sometimes all that is needed to make Christ’s presence in this world known.
CHRIST THE KING
Christ the King Sunday is a fairly recent invention. In 1925, when Europe experienced a rise of fascism and unhealthy nationalism, and people more than ever followed idols as their Gods, Pope Pius the 6th made a point by setting one Sunday apart as a day to be reminded that Christ only is our king and leader for our lives. Now throughout the entire church year, we hear how Christ is King – from the longing hymns in Advent to the joyous Christmas carols we sing over Easter anthems – Christ is King, all the days of the church year, all the days of our lives. In that sense, Christ the King Sunday at the end of our church year ties it all together and reminds us: Christ rules our lives, and we are called to abandon all the idols we worship, and follow Christ alone. So be it: Amen!
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