This year at Immanuel, we have decided to participate in the holy days and seasons that have been traditionally practiced by denominations who follow the liturgical calendar.
What is “The Liturgical Calendar”?
The liturgical calendar is a yearly cycle that corresponds to the life of Jesus Christ from his birth to his resurrection, and then to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It involves major holy days (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) and seasons (Advent, Lent, Holy Week), and includes a few other significant days (Epiphany, Good Friday, Trinity Sunday) within these seasons.
I did not grow up in a church that followed a liturgical calendar. We celebrated Easter and Christmas for sure, but terms like Advent and Lent were lost on me. Recently, however, I’ve come to appreciate not only what these days and terms mean, but the value of participating in them. The church has a long and rich history of using the calendar to guide their worship throughout the year.
Now, lest you have unreasonable anxiety over this decision, let me be clear: we are not turning Roman Catholic. We do not believe that the liturgical calendar is prescribed in the Scriptures or binding upon the Body of Christ. We will not keep to every tradition and practice involved (such as Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday), BUT...we do think that following the calendar through the year will be a meaningful practice for our body in 2017. Simply put: we are free to apply the liturgical calendar to our church’s practices in ways that will be beneficial to us, and we think that doing so will be significant and impactful upon our worship.
So, what are the holy days and seasons
that we will participate in?
The liturgical year actually begins at the dawn of Advent, which starts four weeks prior to Christmas (the Christian new year actually begins at the end of November!). So, while you may not have known it, we've already begun to follow the calendar this year through our Advent celebration! During these weeks, we focused our attention on Israel’s hope and longing for Messiah to appear, seeing how the Old Testament prophesied and prepared God's people for their coming Savior. Advent is a season of expectation. As the saints of old awaited the coming of a Redeemer, we, like them, await his return.
Following Advent is the season of Christmas. According to tradition, Christmas is a twelve day celebration that begins December 25th and ends January 5th (hence the song, “Twelve Days of Christmas”). Punctuating the Christmas season is Epiphany, which technically happens on January 6th. We will celebrate Epiphany on January 8th. On this day, the church traditionally remembers the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ-child. Epiphany means “appearance,” so we will focus our attention on the doctrine of the incarnation: the reality that God came to earth in the flesh through Jesus Christ. This day we will aim to appreciate the significance of the Son of God's incarnation..
After Epiphany, there is not another holy day until Lent, which happens on March 5th. Lent is a season of fasting and preparation. On this Sunday we will learn about why the church practices fasting, and we will be challenged to fast together over the next few weeks leading up to Easter.
The last seven days of Lent are called Holy Week, which recalls the last days of Jesus on earth before his crucifixion. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday on April 9th and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). During these six days we remember Jesus’s death for us and its significance. To help us focus on the meaning of Christ’s death, we will have a Good Friday service on April 14th.
April 16th is Resurrection Day (Easter). On this day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Through his resurrection, Jesus conquered Satan, Death, and hell. In him we have the hope of eternal life!
Then, on June 4th we will celebrate Pentecost, a day in which we recount the outpouring of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2. As New Testament Believers, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, and by the Spirit’s filling we are empowered to live new lives.
The following Sunday, June 11th, is Trinity Sunday. On this day we will celebrate the mystery and wonder of our Triune God, and explore the importance of this doctrine.
Ultimately, the hope in following this calendar is that as a church we would grow in our understanding of significant doctrines as we follow the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that through these special days and seasons our love, thankfulness, and faithfulness to God would increase. In between these special Sundays, we will continue to trek through books of the Bible together, as is our normal practice. Christ-centered worship and expository sermons will still be the “bread and butter” of our times together. The holy days will merely deepen and add texture to our times of gathered worship throughout the year. I believe that we will all be enriched from these focused days, and I hope this excites you as much as it does me. May God be honored and adored through our worship in 2017!