The Church Year – And Why It’s Important
(based on an article by Jonathan, a blogger on worship, theology and liturgy)
Happy New Year!
With the arrival of Advent this week, I’ve been thinking a bit about the benefits of following the Christian year. Some people disregard the Church Year as unbiblical or too rigorous. But I believe that, while not a requirement upon Christians, following the liturgical year is one of the more important of our Christian traditions. Here are a few reasons why.
- It reminds us that we are a people set apart, and that our lives aren’t built around civic holidays. Many of our holidays originated in Christian festivals but, in this post-Christian Britain, are now simply taken as ‘time off’ for many people, with a chance to go away, visit friends and family, or just party. But as Christians, we serve a God who is higher than family, friends, fun or even a fortnight in Fuerteventura! So the liturgical year…
- Distinguishes our holy days from their secular knock-off celebrations. I do love many things about this time of year. The weather, Christmas parties, watching big films. But, as fun and exciting as these things can be, the discipline of the church year helps us realize that these things are merely periphery. Because the liturgical year…
- Organizes and shapes our lives by the Christian story, instead of the things the kingdom of the world holds valuable. Our lives are divided up into academic terms, work schedules, electric bills, even the tax year. Intentionally choosing a gospel-centred organization system helps us to maintain our first allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Don’t worry about the secular tendency to ‘Season’s Greetings’ or embarrassed attempts to prevent others celebrating a secular ‘Season of Goodwill’. We are called to rise above that noise.
- The colours are so pretty. I’m kidding, of course. Sort of. Not really. The changing colours of the liturgical year can be powerful and meaningful symbols of our response to the holy events.
- It brings texture to our gathered worship. The object and definition of our worship – God – never changes, but observing the Christian year allows our corporate worship to reflect all the feelings and nuances of the gospel events. In that sense, it is a powerful rhetorical device, driving home the drama of the Christian story.
- It unites us with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – past, present, and future. We don’t do the Christian life in a vacuum. We are part of a long faith tradition, and one that has observed the Christian year in one form or another practically since the actual events themselves.
- It disciplines us to linger in the valley instead of rushing toward the mountaintop. Our culture believes wholeheartedly in the right to instant gratification, which plagues the church like festering boils on Egyptian necks. Like a child locked unattended in a sweet shop, left to our own appetites, we will gorge ourselves with the sweet, sugary stuff until we vomit. We need the anticipation of Advent to truly recognize the miracle of Christmas. We need to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, sing along with the heavenly host, and be homeless in Bethlehem, before we hear the cry of the Word become flesh. We need to walk with Christ for those 40 days, see him ride into Jerusalem over the path of palm branches, dine with him in the upper room, fall asleep in the garden, and feel the hammer locked in our palm’s grip as the nails pierce our Saviour’s body. Yes, we are an Easter people, but Easter doesn’t happen without the terror and anguish of the week before. It’s time to forsake the supreme quest for the Hollywood ending, and be willing to put off the unbridled excitement for our own edification.
- It helps clergy avoid the narcissistic pursuit of their own personal agendas. In some of the churches I’ve worshipped in, corporate worship was held hostage by the personal agendas of the Vicar. I’m not completely against the sermon series, but so often they’re driven primarily by the personality instead of the Christian story. Following the Christian year doesn’t totally eliminate that possibility, but it’s a very helpful check.
- It is an effective method of discipleship. While churches everywhere are falling for the latest and greatest discipleship program in the effort to revitalize their congregations, the best option might be older than all the rest.
“I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius. It is simple enough for a child. It offers enough opportunities for creativity and flexibility that it need never grow old. Each year offers a wonderful template for learning to walk with Christ more deeply in the Gospel which brings us faith, hope, and love.”
- It forces us to remember the parts of the Gospel story we often forget or neglect. Jesus has some tough things to say that we could all to easily avoid. The church year invites us to wrestle with real human experiences – betrayal, revenge, hopelessness – and aspects of God that we could all to easily airbrush out of an easier faith. The Church Year won’t let us do that. We have to wrestle with the whole revelation of God and the whole of human experience.