Not many of us were aware, but the first Sunday of Advent marks the start of another liturgical year. Within the liturgical seasons of the church, the Christian faith is not only conveyed through the weekly celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on the Lord’s day, it also commemorates God’s history of redemption in Christ, anchored in the three principal feasts – Easter Day, Ascension Day and Pentecost.
From a macro perspective of the rhythm of the festivities (high points) and ordinariness (ebbs) within a liturgical year, different elements of the dynamic of the Christ-life is heightened and celebrated. For instance, the church enters into an expectation and celebration of the coming of Christ during the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle (Nov-Feb) and repentance and rejoicing during the Lent/Triduum/Easter cycle (Feb-April). These two high points in the Calendar is interspersed by two periods of Ordinary time characterized by a focus on the teaching of the church woven within its sense of continued mission to the world within the active presence of the Spirit.
It helps the church to proclaim and live out the comprehensive set of major Christian themes. Some examples of how this is worked out would be for our Services to focus on the cost of discipleship during the season of Lent or the importance of being continually filled with the Spirit during season of Pentecost.
Undoubtedly, the liturgical year has been commonly presented as if it were an effective lesson plan educating about the life of the church. We recall the “bobble-head” Christianity I spoke off last weekend. However, this perspective is secondary in importance compared to the reality of its power in transforming our Christian life. Massey Shepherd states the traditional view with vigour and clarity:
The Christian year is a mystery through which every moment and all the times and seasons of this life are transcended and fulfilled in that reality which is beyond time. Each single holy day, each single gospel periscope in the sequence of the year, is of itself a sacrament of the whole gospel. Each single feast renews the fullness and fulfilment of the Feast of feasts, our death and resurrection with Christ.
The church should not be conceived as another entity within the larger creation but as prior to creation. The church is chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4). Shaping our lives and giving priority to the liturgical year reminds us of this.
Observing the liturgical year with its repeated cycles also allow for a formative, pedagogical and collective experience of church life. In being comprehensive, it also helps us to reflect on the fuller reality of life and faith with her fair share of joys and pains, clarity and confusion, joys of holiness and the despair of sinful living. In our deepest pains, we are reminded that it is always a little while as we pilgrim from earth to heaven, where no segment of time is static.
Note: This article draws from a paper written by one of my students (Ian Chew) in the Anglicanism Course at Trinity Theological College.