Treasuring Our Christian Calendar
(Download the SAC App with the daily lectionary here)
This Sunday, being the first Sunday of Advent, marks the new Christian year which will end on 1st Dec 2018.
One of the first acts of God after delivering the Israelites out of Egypt was to speak to them about the importance of certain days and certain months (Ex 12:1-20). If the establishment of a calendar is crucial to the formation of the ancient covenant people of God, it is similarly critical for the spiritual health of the Church in today’s modern society.
God’s new covenant people need to experience and express the transforming power of our faith in radical opposition to the slavish culture and principles of the world. One way is to celebrate the Triune God’s act of salvation, anchored in the three main feasts of Epiphany, Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost. By observing the liturgical year the church rehearses and actualises the gospel narrative. This ensures that every part of the gospel is enacted and that a complete set of themes for Christian living is offered, such as:
- We died and are buried with Christ
- We are raised with him to new life
- We are filled with his Spirit
- We advance the mission of God by the power of the Spirit
- We await Christ’s return
The spirituality of the church is also enhanced through the awareness of her pilgrimage brought to life observing the liturgical year. It provides a framework in which the weekly liturgy is given its distinctive shape and meaning while the Daily Office (accessible from SAC App) reinforces and prepares for the Sunday liturgy. Each Sunday is shaped by the particular time of the church year in the lectionary, so that the church is made aware of her ongoing journey.
The church that is distinguished by certain “marks” or “core practices” reminds us that these practices are not our own invention but are the Spirit’s concrete works. It is the Spirit who makes these distinctive practices possible – practices that form the church. The Holy Spirit directs the church in her growth both through her established traditions and new ways of worship.
Contrary to popular understanding, the church should not be conceived as another entity within the larger creation but as prior to creation. The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity. Creation is the means by which God fulfils his eternal purpose in time. Scripture itself testifies to the logical priority of the church over creation by referring to the church as the chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4), or to Christ who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). The Church is more than an instrument in God’s hand; she is the fulfilment of God’s creation. The Church Calendar can stand at the heart of how we see time.
Without anchoring herself within her living and continuing tradition, the modern church will have no long-term collective memory, nor will she be able to pass down an auditory and visual tradition to future generations. By separating the sacred and secular and confining the church to just a Sunday experience or Sunday school, the “Church militant” becomes subjugated to Creation, and we deprive our children of a deep resource which they could reach out to in their adulthood.
Note: I wrote this article with resources drawn from some of my Anglicanism students