The Church Year
In the early years of the Christian Church, somewhere after the freedom given it by Constantine within the Roman Empire, the Church developed an annual cycle to assist its people in their spiritual growth. The year began with the Season of Advent and focused on preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world…and into one’s heart.
Upon the birth of our Lord the Christian then moved into Christmastide. Today we best known these days as the 12 days of Christmas which culminate at Epiphany, the visitation of the Magi. An epiphany is a moment of revelation, of coming into new awareness. In the case of the church year that moment of revelation is when those who are seeking God with true hearts (the Magi, possibly Persian Zoroastrians) come to realize that this baby is God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us.
Following Epiphany we walk with Jesus in the early days of his ministry. We remember his baptism and some of his miracles. We are then led to the period of Lent remembering Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert. Lent is to be a season of introspection and preparation. As Jesus spent time alone in prayer, so ought we. As Jesus practiced the spiritual discipline in his body (fasting) so should we. As Jesus sought the power of the Holy Spirit for the ministry that lay ahead, so should we. Lent is not only to be a season of giving up it is also to be a focusing, a preparation for doing the ministry God has prepared for us to do.
Lent ends with Palm Sunday, “Maybe-people-are-finally-getting-it” Sunday. There is a taste in Palm Sunday of what would happen if people truly see Jesus for who he is. There is joy and praise. There is the sense of what God’s Kingdom would truly be like. But there is also the sense that for the new to enter there must be a cleansing of the old, a cleansing of the temple if you would.
We are quickly reminded following this moment of joy of the tremendous push back against God’s will and way. It existed within society then and it exists within society…and within ourselves…now. As we walk with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter in what we call Holy Week, we see that the road to resurrection life is not an easy road. As we walk with Jesus along this road we realize that the journey cost Jesus his life. To walk with him will cost us ours as well.
And then Easter!! The tough road is not the final word. The powerbrokers of this world, at whatever level we find them, will become the broken powers of eternity. Death and the grave will not win the day. In the hands of God, death becomes the birthing event to heaven. Hallelujah, He is risen, He is risen indeed.
Following Easter we walk with those early disciples through the days of attempting to understand what just happened. We also begin to see, as did they, that there is a bigger picture for our existence. We begin to hear the commission of Jesus in Acts 1:8 that we shall be his witnesses (the Greek word is our word martyr). As this sinks in we understand the need for special power, Holy Spirit power, that came to those early followers on Pentecost.
The final six months or so in the Church Year focus on deepening our spiritual life through regular times of worship, growing to know and follow Jesus, and then going into our homes, business, community, and world to be salt and light. We are reminded that our Christian faith is not just about me and my comfort. It is about serving and sharing the Good News that in Jesus our past is forgive, our eternal future is secure, therefore I am going to live differently today.
The final Sunday of the Church Year is called Christ the King Sunday (this year it is November 23). As human beings we recognize that we are caught in an in between period of history. We have been given a glimpse of what shall be (Palm Sunday and Easter), we have tasted the first fruit of a Spirit-filled life (Pentecost), but we know we aren’t there yet. Christ the King Sunday reminds us of that time that is yet to come. It gives us focus during the course of our year. When we get caught in the doldrums of Christian service it reminds us of the “end-game” and gives us the incentive to keep on keeping on.
In celebrating our future hope of the coming King we complete the Church Year and then the cycle begins afresh, hopefully in an ever deepening fashion.
The Season of Advent focuses on preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world…and into one’s heart.