Last time we looked at the establishment of Advent, which is the first season of the Church calendar. It is where we begin anew to consider what Jesus’ second coming means for us today, as it could come any time. Are we living in such a way that we will not be embarrassed or ashamed at his coming, nor of Him? Christmas follows advent, originally as a time to give thanks especially for the Incarnation of our Lord. As Eugene Peterson puts it, "he moved into our neighborhood." Twelve days in the season of Christmas was given as two different dates were given in the Western and Eastern Church for Christmas: December 25 and January 6. The second date became the day to celebrate the arrival of the Magi, and the announcement that the kingdom of God through the Jewish Messiah was for all peoples who would receive Him. January 6 became Epiphany, which means “manifestation,” i.e. the encounter with the One who gave Himself for us all, all of us who receive Him.
There is a brief season of “ordinary time” between Epiphany and Lent. Survival through the winter is an important goal across the earth. I am writing this during the heavy snow and cold event, followed by freezing rain, rain and then the re-freezing of what is on the ground. So it may be hard to hear that “Lent” means “Spring” even though it often falls in February, depending on the date of Easter, which depends on the lunar calendar and not our regular one.
Lent is a period of forty days of fasting and self-denial of various kinds in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. Like the other seasons, Lent began in the third or fourth century, as a mirror of our Lord’s time of testing in the wilderness. Lent begins this year on March 6, which is later than normal, because Easter is later than normal, April 21.
Lent is a time of reflecting on Jesus and our relationship to Him, thus a self-reflection, which prepares us for the huge sacrifice He made for us, and the amazing victory over death that we call “Easter.” Pentecost then comes and the arrival of the Holy Spirit for the establishment and continuance of the Church and her Mission.
Pastor Jonathan, what has this to do with the Bible and the essential of Christian discipleship? Good question. The early Christians wanted to devote themselves to the Lord throughout the year. The very names of our days of the week and months refer to pagan deities. Why not redeem the time and seasons so as to reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour? Thus the seasons of the Church were born. Are they essential to the faith? No.
Why do some churches only recognize Christmas and Easter but no other seasons? Another good question. Most of my Pentecostal friends do not celebrate Pentecost. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is to be celebrated everyday. And yet some of them are using an Advent wreath with candles. Go figure. Presbyterians are divided on the observance of the seasons. Some Presbyterian Churches have wholeheartedly adopted the candles, colours (in pulpit falls and cloths on the communion table), and liturgies of what I remember from the Anglican Church. This is not bad, it is just a bit strange. Other Presbyterian churches rarely if ever use candles, do not use colours in any season, and like the Pentecostals only acknowledge Christmas and Easter. Remember when Christmas day fell on a Sunday recently? More than one of my Pentecostal pastor friends cancelled their Sunday service on December 25th, because "you would hate to wreck the family time of Christmas morning with the kids." There are many diverse uses of the Church seasons within the body of Christ.
One of the benefits between the denominations of using the Revised Common Lectionary, which is based on the Church seasons in a three year cycle, and uses four Scriptures every week is the fact that you can talk about the same Scripture passage between the Presbyterians, Lutherians, United, Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and anyone else who uses the Lectionary. So I could talk to my United and RC friends in Newfoundland from Community groups, and then get on the phone with my mom in California and find that we all had heard a message on the same passage that morning. It was quite a delight, even if the preaching was extremely different, and I certainly did not agree on the applications made across these vastly different traditions.
As we reflect on the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us devote ourselves more fully and remain attentive to what He has to say about this and every else in our lives. Jesus is faithful to us. Let us trust Him as we go through a time of self-understanding in our Search Process. Let us trust Him with our leadership, with our denominational struggles, with our families, neighbours, governments and the whole of our lives.