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    Entries in Liturgical Calendar (1)


    The Turning of the Seasons

    Easter rests over the horizon.

    The seasons change.

    Fall, winter, spring, and summer. Or Advent, Christmastide, Ordinary Time, and Lent. Easter (celebrated as a season, not a day), followed by Pentecost and, once again, Ordinary Time. Christ the King Sunday concludes the year, and Advent begins again.

    As time goes on, and as my life continues to be defined by the rhythms of the church, the calendar increases in significance. Not the four seasons, per se, but rather, the story of God as it is given in Scripture and as it is told within the life of the congregation. To be acquainted with "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) requires discipline, and intention. A plan. Christmas and Easter are helpful anchor points, but there is so much more to tell. And we are so forgetful. Now and again, it is good to look up and be reminded of where we stand in the year.

    Presently, we are approaching the fifth Sunday in the season of Lent. This is a time in which we are reminded to repent of our sins, and to intensify our focus upon discipleship to Jesus. There's never a bad time to repent, or to follow Christ. In fact, that is the daily calling of the Christian. But, lest we forget these essentials, it is good to be reminded, and the calendar can be an aid.

    For a Baptist kid from East Texas to be familiar with the liturgical calendar, much less to appreciate it, is quite strange. Growing up, we celebrated Christmas and Easter as special days. And I'm thankful for this. I'm also thankful that for the remainder of the year, we focused our congregational energies on one or more books of the Bible, and walked through the text as a congregation. The Word was preached as the people gathered for worship, and the saints were equipped for ministry. This is good. 

    On Christmas Eve, we celebrated the Lord's Supper, silently, listening to great hymns of the faith and solemnly observing one of the two ordinances. There were no cell phones to turn off, only rowdy children to corral. During the time of year in which we remember the coming of God in the flesh, the celebration of the incarnation, we reminded ourselves of the purpose for which Christ had come: to redeem sinners from the power of death, and to usher in the kingdom of God. Christ did not only come to die. The gospel is even richer than that. But the fact that he did die to redeem sinners is a pivot point in the story, inseparable as it is from his resurrection, and his incarnation. The story of Christ doesn't fit in a nutshell, and cannot be captured in a soundbite, try as we might.

    On Easter we sang our most jubilant songs, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Among the many things that formed me, the congregational call and response of "He is risen! He is risen, indeed!" was immensely compelling. In my congregation, over a thousand men and women spoke these words with conviction and power, and my heart swelled with hope, and my faith in the gospel grew.

    But we didn't celebrate the seasons, or other formal church holidays or feasts. And that's OK. Paul, perplexed by believers in Galatia who he thought had gone adrift, writes in Galatians 4:10 that they had been observing "special days and seasons and years." He openly worried his efforts had been wasted. I can sympathize with Paul sometimes.

    In the text I've cited, some think Paul was speaking against formal, routine observances of the liturgical type, maybe even a special Christian calendar. I don't think so. I think something else was going on in the first century. While it's true that formal observances can devolve into dead religiosity, correlation does not imply causation. Some of the most free flowing, spontaneous Christian gatherings can be just as Spirit-depleted as a high mass. Showmanship is not a denominationally specific vice. And the Spirit blows where it will.

    Now, I am in a context that celebrates the season of Advent. And we celebrate Holy Week. We emphasize Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and pull out all the stops for Easter.

    In youth ministry, we widen the lens just a little, and at least name the beginning of the season of Lent. We don't have an Ash Wednesday service, but we spend about six Wednesdays in a gospel. This year, we have studied the Gospel of John. We read John 1, and contemplated Jesus's coming as the Logos, "the Word," "the meaning of life." We contemplated John 3, and asked what it means to be "born again." We read in John 6 about Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, and considered how with God, there is an abundance of grace and love. And tonight, we turn to John 11.

    In John 11, we read the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus. Jesus makes one of his famous "I am" statements, declaring himself, "the resurrection and the life." There is no greater hope. Jesus rages at death in this narrative, and calls Lazarus forth. Why does Jesus do this? The key is found in verse 15. Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus has died, and that he is glad he was not there. Jesus says this was so, "so that you may believe."

    Each week, I walk with people who are diverse in their outlook and convictions. Some are people of strong faith, who only wish to please God with their lives. They are a mess like all of us, a bag of mixed motives, guilty of missteps. But their heart is inclined toward God. There are some who oscillate between belief and unbelief. And then there are those who are plagued by their doubts. And each week, I join them as a brother in Christ, and speak to them the Word of God. And the Spirit blows where it will.

    Of course, my hope is that they would hear and believe. That they would consider the cross (Good Friday!) and believe that on Sunday, the tomb was found empty ("He is risen!"). Then, I pray that they would follow Christ, through fall, winter, spring, and summer, and then again through Advent, Christmastide, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. And as the years pass, I pray that they would mark out the time by how they have grown in faith, and the good things God has done, and the comfort they found when the passed through a valley. That's what I pray for, anyway. That thing about the Spirit holds true, once again.

    As we approach Easter, I pray that God would bless you, and that you would walk in the way of Christ, that the time you have been given would be defined, first and foremost, by Christ and his love. 

    This essay originally appeared in my (mostly) monthly eNewsletter update. You can subscribe at my About page. Thanks for reading.