The Christian Year – The Church in the Life of Christ
A search at the Wikipedia website on the subject “Calendar” reveals that there are many kinds of calendar systems used by different people in the world. The one that we are familiar with, used worldwide is known as the Gregorian calendar system.
The Church has also evolved a Christian calendar based on the life of Christ. It begins in December with Advent, the coming of God, the Word made flesh.
After the period of Advent comes the season of Epiphany, where Christ is made manifest to the world. First, it is to the lowly shepherds, then Simeon and Anna, and some time later, to the wise men and eventually to Israel at His baptism.
As we follow Christ’s life, the Gospels describe for us His years of itinerant ministry, proclaiming and teaching about the kingdom of God across Galilee, Samaria, Judea, leading eventually to the climax and confrontation at Jerusalem. When the hour came, Jesus set His face resolutely towards Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51). He took the road to the cross – the whole journey a walking seminar (as Eugene Peterson called it), captured so well by Luke in his gospel (Lk. 9-19).
Just before the terrible public climax, there was the intimate private communion with his disciples in the Upper Room, told only by John in his gospel (Jn. 13-17). This is followed by the arrest, the midnight mistrials, the morning crucifixion, the famous seven sayings, including the cry of desolation “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, the dark Saturday (Sabbath) and the initial shock of the empty tomb on the first day of the week.
And then, overwhelming joy! Forty glorious days of being with the resurrected Christ before the spirit (the disciples’ and ours) plunged a little when He was taken into heaven. But only for a while! Ten days later, the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, was given as promised and the Christian Church was born to bear witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and until the ends of the earth, to the end of the age.
In the Christian calendar then, the Church remembers and is refreshed yearly by the life of Christ. But what about the period from June to December?
“...the months from December to May, is fundamentally shaped by the events of the Incarnation,
beginning with the season of Advent and closing with the fifty days between the Resurrection
and the Ascension, followed by Pentecost. These historical events then challenged the early Church to celebrate Trinity Sunday, bringing the final and full disclosure of the nature of God as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
After this disclosure of the mystery of the triune God of grace, what else is there to celebrate in the Church’s sacred calendar?” For the next 25 Sundays, there is the simple nomenclature, “The 1st to the 25th Sunday(s) after Trinity.”... This time period embraces the whole Season after Pentecost, (and) is technically called “Ordinary Time.” (James Houston, Introduction, Letters of Faith Through the Season, Vol. 2)
Ordinary time. It sounds rather boring and dreary. But the Church named it well. This is the time to walk the talk about the resurrected life in the ordinary thoroughfare of living as witness for Him in the world.
Today, we live by so many calendar combinations: the economic or financial year, the company or school year, even the church year.
We manage and all seems well and good, although once in a while, we catch ourselves catching our breath and wonder what all this busyness is about?
What is more subtle and sinister is that in all these spin, there is an unconscious forging of a mindset and consciousness: we are always busy, on-the-go, multi-task-driven by a 24/7/365 economy, looking to the next event, living in the future, externally engaged.
What if Christians live by the Christian Year? What if each season of our year is lived and framed by the life of Christ, following in Hs footsteps?
Will it set up a counter rhythm? As we imbibe this rhythm of grace following the life of Christ, will a similar unconscious forging tune and mould us to a Christ-like consciousness that counters the drivenness of our economic and materialistic world?
In the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis, the spell of the wicked witch was broken when Aslan landed back in Narnia. In a memorable line, a dwarf exclaimed to the witch: “This is no thaw, this is Spring. Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you. This is Aslan’s doing.”
For God is now with us, is now in us through the Holy Spirit and one day will come for us to bring us to the ultimate reunion dinner, the Bridal Feast of the Lamb.
While we wait, work and witness to the coming Kingdom, the life of Christ nourishes us. Furthermore, the Christian year keeps us attuned to His renewing grace and alert to the numbing effects of other rhythms.
Perhaps it is time we recover this “tradition” of the Christian Year — to live in the rhythm of grace following the life of Christ year by year; and, to become attuned, alive to God, His life shaping ours rather than the world squeezing us into its mould.