Thursday, July 12, 2012

#ChurchChatter on the Church Calendar - Alec Ellis

What time is?  Or better yet, how do we tell what time it is?  Many things in life tell us what time it is.  If you have kids, the school calendar might guide your life.  You might work at a business and are controlled by the fiscal calendar.  Maybe you’re like me and counting down the days until soccer starts again in Europe.  Personally, we count time by birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, or other significant events.  It seems like we just can’t get away from time.

 So, what time is it?  Perhaps a better question is whose time is it? The answer, of course, is God’s.  God is the creator and sustainer of all that are, including time.  One last question, what comes to mind when you hear the word liturgy or the Christian Calendar?  Does that sound too “Catholic” and stuffy and boring? I hope that if it does, I can show you how the liturgy and the Christian Calendar can be used to draw us into a closer relationship with Christ.

First, we ought to understand just what the Christian Calendar is and how the liturgy fits into that.  The Christian Calendar begins with Advent four weeks before Christmas and moves into Christmas-time (12 days). After Christmas, the Church celebrates Epiphany, Lent, and Easter.  Seven weeks after Easter, the Church celebrates Pentecost Sunday.  After Pentecost, the weeks are called “ordinary” time, or “numbered” time, until the year starts again with Advent.  If you’re not sure what all of these things are, I can recommend a site run by a Nazarene:  Notice, however, that much of what the Church celebrates is seasons, not days.  Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter are all seasons, not just one day of celebration.  Hopefully, that isn’t too much information. 

The Christian Calendar helps us to orient our time to God’s time; it orients us to the right answer of whose time it is.  The Christian Calendar has the potential to orient our time around the life of Christ.  As we move from Advent through Christmas and Easter and even to Pentecost, we not only tell, we actually reenact the divine drama in a sense.  We anticipate with those who waited desperately for the coming Christ.  We fast as Jesus did in the desert.  We live in sadness at the state of the world during Lent as we recognize our sins and the sins of the world.  We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and look forward to our own on Easter morning.  Finally, at Pentecost, we remember that the Spirit lives in us just as the Spirit did in the disciples.  The Christian Calendar connects us both vertically with all those Christians who have come before us and will come after us, and horizontally with all those who currently celebrate Jesus Christ every Sunday.  As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, on Sundays we are joined at the Table not just by Jesus, but by Peter and Paul, Augustine, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and my grandma.  We celebrate and are connected with a great cloud of witnesses each Sunday as we celebrate a liturgy and partake of the Eucharist which is much bigger than us or our local church.

Ok, let’s move back to what the liturgy is.  The liturgy, or the “work of the people,” refers to the actual service of the Church.  Each Sunday the Lectionary is used in which four Scripture readings are assigned each week.  Some might say that is too stifling for a pastor to be forced into a prescribed reading.  Yet, I think the lectionary forces preachers to use the width and depth of the Bible and not only focus on his/her favorite or most comfortable topics.  Also, the lectionary is a powerful tool of Christian unity.  Churches all over the country and the world are reading and preaching on the same passages.  Finally, the lectionary ensures that Scripture is actually read every week in church from four different areas and that the sermon will be Biblically based.  I wish that didn’t need to be said, but I think we have all been to services and leave wondering if we actually opened or read the Bible.

Back to the liturgy-- often people think the liturgy forces people into prewritten prayers and creeds and that is partially true.  However, this isn’t always bad.  Our churches should read and contemplate the prayers and creeds of those who have gone before us more often.  How can we do wrong by reading the Apostles creed every week or saying the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday? Also, liturgy leaves space for extemporaneous prayers and a sermon written by the pastor.  I assure you that the Spirit can still work and move in a liturgical service.

Let me end with almost a word of scolding to our Protestant ancestors.  Somewhere along the way we/they threw the baby out with the bath water.  In our attempts to find the “Biblical” authentic Christianity, we lost 1,500 years of history. Rather than testing and discerning what was good and bad, or helpful and hindering, we just threw everything out.  After 500 years of Protestant history, we are finally realizing our mistake.  We’ve kind of cut ourselves off at the knees are just now recognizing we can’t run.  I know some consider this move back to liturgy as “hip” or a fad, but I truly hope it isn’t.  I hope that churches, including my own, which have moved away from the Christian Calendar, embrace it.  I hope they turn back to the liturgy not just to be hip or embrace the “emergent” crowd, but recognize the great historical power in the Calendar and the Liturgies.

Remember, whose time is it? It is, always has been, and always will be God’s.1

1If you’re interested in this topic and looking for a good place to start no better place to start than Robert Webber’s works.  I particularly enjoyed Ancient Future Worship.

Alec Ellis is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University and this year received an MA in Theology from Nazarene Theological Seminary. He begins an MA in Library Science from San Jose State University this fall. He currently lives in Shawnee, Ks. with his wife, but is originally from California where they hope to return to soon. He enjoys cooking, reading all sorts of books, watching wildlife, and camping. Alec would love to tell you something on his blog.



  1. Thanks Alec & Keith. Good stuff. My favorite book to recommend to people for an approachable read on the Calendar is Kimberlee Conway Ireton's "The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year". (

    Also, I do think that Epiphany IS actually one day (January 6) and not a season. The ordinary time after is is the season after Epiphany.

    Thanks again for highlighting the usefulness of the CY.

  2. I know that traditionally the time after Epiphany is ordinary time, but I think its ok and have heard some refer to it as the season of epiphany. I guess it depends on how traditional you want to be.
    I'll have to check out that book. I'll see if the library has it.


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