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Some Thoughts on the Church Calendar

God is the Lord of all time.

Fellow pastors, I know many of you celebrate an abbreviated Church Calendar that consists of Christmas Eve, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. But I would encourage you to consider using a more robust Church Calendar to structure your upcoming sermons and lessons. The traditional Church Calendar is based around events in the life of Jesus which corresponds to the Jewish Old Testament festivals, thus it spans both Testaments. The Church Calendar also reminds us that all time is holy, that there are certain recurring seasons of the year, but that time is also moving to the day that Christ will come again.

Unlike our secular calendar which begins on January 1, the Church Calendar begins with the first Sunday of the four Sundays of Advent, which, this year of 2020, is November 29. I will soon post on Advent which will discuss this Season much more fully than here, but until then, unlike our secular beginning of the Christmas Season which is the day after Thanksgiving, the actual twelve day Christmas Season of the Church Calendar begins Christmas Eve and ends on January 6, Epiphany, or the traditional day assigned to the celebration of the three Gentile kings visit to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The significance of Epiphany is that the Messiah has come not just to save Israel from its sins, but also to save us who are Gentiles.

Epiphany extends to beginning of the Lenten Season, which is Ash Wednesday which is forty days prior to Easter. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we came from ashes and we will return to ashes, but that we also will be resurrected from the dead. An ashen cross made from the burnt palms of Palm Sunday mixed with myrrh and olive oil is drawn upon our foreheads. This day thus enables us to reflect upon our own mortality and the necessity to “number our days,” as Moses puts it in Psalm 90. Lent is thus a solemn season of reflection and repentance and asking God how we can make our priorities better conform to the priorities of our King and His Kingdom. We resolve to give up something in our lives that is either detrimental to our spiritual growth or something that gives us undue pleasure as a symbol of our commitment to take up our crosses and follow our Savior. But as we give these somethings up, we are encouraged to replace them with something that will be us closer to our Lord such as a reinvigorated spiritual discipline, perhaps increased intercessory prayer, Bible meditation, or service to others, just to name a few.

The forty-day period of Lent corresponds to Israel’s forty years in the Wilderness as well as our Savior’s forty days in the Desert. This is an excellent time to explore sermons that encourage examination, reflection, meditation, commitment and repentance in preparation for Good Friday and the celebration of Easter. The beginning of Lent’s ending is Holy Week which begins with Palm Sunday, following which is what is called the Triduum, the Thursday, Friday and Saturday preceding Easter Sunday. Thursday of the Triduum is Maundy Thursday, with “Maundy” meaning Command. It is the night Jesus gave us the command to love one another. It is also the night of the Last Supper where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. But it is also the night in which He washed the disciples’ feet. I would encourage all of my ministerial brothers to consider a foot washing service when it is safe for us to meet again. It is a very humbling experience to have one’s feet washed and to wash another’s feet.

All of us are familiar with Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Our Anglican Service on Good Friday involves the stripping of our altars. Our cross is veiled in black. Our altar is the clothed in white. We Anglicans renew our baptismal vows on Easter Sunday, something I would like you to consider next Easter. Whereas Lent was a time of solemnity, Eastertide is a time of celebration and joy. It reminds us that we who are in Christ are Easter People. The Season of Eastertide extends for fifty days until Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. The period following Eastertide until Advent is called Ordinary Time. I like to think of it as Growth Time.

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