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Growing up Baptist in Georgia, I did not learn about the seasons of the church calendar until I began to study religion in college. For those in my hometown church, Jesus was born at Christmas, resurrected on Easter, and asked to intercede on our behalf when the Atlanta Braves began playing in the spring or the Georgia Bulldogs kicked-off in the fall. There was no season of Advent to prepare us for Christ’s arrival and no Lent to remind us of his suffering on our behalf. We focused on the big days of celebration with little explanation on how those events could shape our lives the rest of the year.
I first discovered the wealth of spiritual meaning that comes from following the liturgical church calendar when I was in Divinity School at Wake Forest and serving in a small congregation in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. In those places I began to rearrange my life around a new way of thinking about time. Instead of rushing through the days, weeks, and months, I found myself slow down and become more open to the presence of God around me. When December arrived, we didn’t jump straight to the 25th, we waited and prepared our hearts for the hope, peace, joy, and love of the season to be born in us in new ways. When winter began to break for spring, the season of Lent reminded me of the truth that death always gives way to new life in ways that chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets never could. I began to associate time less with the actual month and more with the season of the church year. Before I knew it, my life had changed, and I was more open to God’s continual presence that is always speaking to us.
The church calendar begins with the season of Advent, usually in late November or early December. Advent gives way to Christmas and Christmas to Epiphany. Advent reminds us of the days when the people of Israel awaited the coming of the messiah and that we are still awaiting his return today. Christmas reminds us that Christ has come as the promised one, Emmanuel, God with us, and welcomes us to make room for God to continue to make himself know in us. Epiphany celebrates the early days of Jesus’ ministry as one-by-one, those who met him had the “epiphanies” or revelations that he was indeed God’s promised one. At Epiphany, we open our lives for God to transform us in the same way.
As spring nears, the seasons take on a new tone. The season of Lent revolves around Jesus’ suffering and ultimate death on the cross for the sins of the world. Here we are encouraged to sacrifice or fast from something in our own lives as a way of being identified with Jesus’ suffering and preparing our hearts for the new life of Easter Day. At Easter we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and embrace our new lives as his resurrected people. Finally, the calendar enters its longest season, the season of Pentecost, which recounts the coming of the Holy Spirit and reminds us that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the grave still dwells within his people, the church.
The beauty of the church calendar is that it is attached to scriptures. For every week there are 4 readings from the Bible that connect to the appropriate season. There is a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle, and something from one of the Gospel stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. These selections are called the Lectionary.
I often meet people who want to begin reading the Bible or long to have a deeper experience with the scriptures but just don’t know where to start. The Lectionary can be a wonderful way to journey through the Bible as the four short readings, distributed throughout your week, connect you to the life of Jesus and invite you to find yourself in his story. Churches and individuals who follow the church calendar and lectionary are exposed to most of the Bible every three years.
As we begin a new year and open our lives to being transformed into Christ’s image as his people and as his church, we are going to follow the rhythms of the church calendar and lectionary. Each week we will share a brief devotional reflection based on the four lectionary readings Tuesday through Friday. On Monday’s we will share a special reflection or spiritual practice for you to try during the next week. We hope you will use these devotions and scriptures for your own spiritual formation and time with God as we prepare for God to do great things in the life of our church in 2018.
For now, we find ourselves in the season of Epiphany and are beginning a new series titled, “New Year, New You.” The passages of scripture for this week Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 62:5-12, I Corinthians, and Mark 1:14-20. Check back tomorrow for our first devotion. May God bless us with many spiritual epiphanies as we begin living liturgically this Epiphany!