How long has it been since you’ve looked at a calendar? Chances are, you probably haven’t waited more than a week, and many of us have already looked at a calendar today to see what’s coming up next on the agenda. In today’s culture, where time is almost literally money, we live our lives tied to a strict calendar. It helps us make sense of time, ordering our moments in a way to get the most out of life. We can’t make time or save time, we can only try to manage it effectively, and calendars help us.
Now, stop and think about how many different calendars we keep in our heads. Of course there’s your daily agenda, maybe a work schedule of appointments and meetings. Inside of a work calendar is a fiscal calendar, with deadlines and important dates. Then for some of us there’s a school calendar, with completely different sets of seasons and days. Whether you know it or not, there’s a marketing calendar that tells advertisers when to place the commercials and sales that we are bombarded with every day (think Black Friday). Finally, there’s a seasonal calendar, which tells us that it’s currently winter and we need to wear a sweater. It seems like we are swimming in a sea of calendars, each with a different intention, trying to maximize our time for a specific purpose.
Turns out, long before fiscal years and smartphones, the Church developed its own calendar, its own way of telling time. This calendar was developed very early in the life of the Church, based on the rhythms of Jewish worship, and it has kept running, year after year, for centuries. The purpose of the Church calendar is to help us see above the fray, to get outside of marketing, appointments and deadlines and remind us that we are living inside the great story of God. As Christians, we have the ability to tell time a little differently than the world around us.
In fact, the Church calendar helps us live out the story of God as we go throughout our year. As with every calendar, the Church goes through specific seasons. Just like winter, spring, summer, and fall, these seasons rotate and bring different things into focus:
Advent – Beginning in late November/early December, Advent is four weeks long and is a season of anticipation. We’re not only preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth, but we’re preparing for God’s kingdom to come in all of its fullness. We lean forward in anticipation, waiting for Jesus to return and all to be made new. Advent is a season of “fasting,” where we examine our lives and repent in preparation.
Christmas – Just like the carol, this is a “twelve day” season where we celebrate the mystery of God sending His Son in flesh. Heaven and earth are combined powerfully when God becomes man, and Christmas is a “feast” season, our party to celebrate and remember.
Epiphany – This season (the word means “revelation”) begins with remembering the Magi’s visit, and the fact that God began revealing His Son to the world. We celebrate the act of God not only entering our world, but revealing himself to people.
Lent – Just as Christ went into the desert for forty days to prepare for His ministry, Lent is a forty-day season of prayer and fasting, sending us out into a metaphorical “desert” of preparation. We give things up not to punish ourselves, but to make more room for God in our daily lives, and to be more aware of our daily need for His grace.
Holy Week – In this season, time slows down a bit as we walk through the stages of Jesus’ journey to the cross. We begin with Palm Sunday and moving to Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we act out the celebration, rejection, and crucifixion of Jesus.
Easter – Easter is a season of “feasting,” where we rejoice in the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. This is the greatest party of the year, and just as fervently as we fasted during Lent, we rejoice and celebrate during the Easter season.
Pentecost – On this Sunday, we celebrate the moment when God gave the Holy Spirit to Christ’s followers, and sent them out to the entire world. This is the birthday of the Church, and a huge day in the Church calendar.
Ordinary Time – Following Pentecost, there is a long season without specific celebrations or marker moments. Ordinary time is simple, rhythmic… well, ordinary. It’s a chance for us to remember that Jesus interacts with us not just in the high points of life, but in the everyday rhythms that we experience in our daily lives.
…and then we repeat, and year after year we gradually build a new rhythm into our lives. Each time we walk through the seasons, we’re all joining the story, like people re-enacting a Shakespeare play or reciting lines from our favorite movie. Eventually, those lines get embedded deep in our lives, and we begin viewing the world around us, even our daily calendars and agendas, through the lens of God’s story.
The Church calendar is a great gift, and I hope as you walk with us through the next year, you can walk with us and play a part in this great story. If you’re more of a visual learner, click here to check out a quick video giving a little more detail about the church calendar.