Church Worship – The Church Year

The Christian Church keeps track of time and seasons of the year by using calendars that provide us with opportunities to observe, commemorate, and celebrate certain events or occasions. The changing seasons of the year also provide us with recurring opportunities to celebrate the Christian Faith in Worship. The church has long used the seasons of the year as an opportunity for festivals and holidays – sacred time set aside for the worship of God.

While Jewish celebration revolves around the Exodus from Egypt, the Christian Church Year focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus.

The sequence of festivals from Advent to Resurrection Sunday becomes an annual spiritual journey for worshippers as they “kneel at the manger, listen on a hillside, walk the streets of Jerusalem, hear the roar of the mob, stand beneath the cross, and witness the resurrection”! The rest of the church year provides opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus and his commission to his people to be a Light to the World.

Many churches in the Protestant tradition do not celebrate in any deliberate or sustained way, the various seasons of the church year beyond Christmas and Easter. However, the observance of the seasons of the church year has a long history in the life of the Christian Faith. When most of the people in the church were poor and had no access to education, the church festivals and the cycle of the church year provided help in teaching the story of God and his actions in human history.

Even in the Old Testament, the concept of sacred time became a vehicle for teaching the faith (for example, Exodus 12-13). Planned and purposeful observance of the Christian seasons and festivals can become an important tool for education and discipleship in the Faith, as well as a guide for spiritual growth and vitality.

As a congregation moves through the church calendar, they are presented in an organised way with the opportunity to talk about, reflect upon, and respond to the entire range of faith confessions that are at the heart of the Christian Faith. This is important, not only for the vitality of the whole community, but especially for children to become aware in the context of community celebration, those things that are essential to their Faith (Deut 6:20-25).

The Christian Calendar is organised primarily around two major cores of Sacred Time: These are:- Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, followed by Lent, Holy Week and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The rest of the year following Pentecost is known as ‘Ordinary Time’, from the word ‘ordinal’, which simply means counted time (1st Sunday after Pentecost, etc). Ordinary Time is used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world.

Following the church year is more than simply marking time on a calendar or a note in the church bulletin. Every effort should be made to use the various aspects of the church year as an opportunity to tell (and remind ourselves), of the story of God’s redemptive work in the world.

Many churches have relied almost solely on the spoken word to carry the burden of proclamation. However, even in the Old Testament the services of worship involved all of the senses: Sight, smell, taste, touch, as well as hearing. Modern learning theory also indicates that the more senses are involved in an experience, the more impact it makes, especially for children. This suggests that the worship experience should be concerned with more than just preaching.

One simple guide that can assist in tracking the seasons of the church year for worshippers, as well as providing a visual context for worship, is the use of Colours of the Church Year in the Sanctuary. Different colours are associated with different seasons and events, and the changing colours of vestments, communion table and pulpit coverings provide visual clues for the seasons.

In the churches that I attend we use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and follow the seasons indicated therein and above.

What I like especially in the churches that I attend is that the basic instinct behind all that we do is to not to hide behind clever rhetoric and high theological teaching but to have ‘love’ at the core of all that we do. If we can reflect the love of Jesus Christ then we cannot be far out!