Does your church follow the Christian calendar? Just as God instituted feasts for the people of Israel to follow, ancient Christians created feasts as well. That Christian calendar, while not commanded by God in his New Covenant with the church, is designed to help Christians remember and re-enact the story of Jesus, very much like God’s feasts for the Jews were to help them remember and re-enact the story of his faithfulness and salvation in their nation. In the previous three posts in this series we looked at three Jewish feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, seeking to learn God’s heart for the holidays. Now we attempt to apply God’s heart to the Christian church. To do that, let’s see if those ancient Christians who created Christian holy days (holidays!) were faithful to God’s heart.
There are many variations of the Christian calendar, depending on what Christian tradition you are from. My guess is that the vast majority of Christians observe at least some of the holidays in the Christian calendar: Christmas and Easter. But there are many others. I’m going to describe what we practice at Faith Church, and this would be true for most churches in our denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church.
In just a few weeks the calendar resets with the season of Advent. Advent means “the arrival,” and thus points to a period of four weeks of spiritual preparation before Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of or birth of Jesus, our savior. We gather on Christmas Eve to rejoice in God’s love for us in sending his son.
The feast of Christmas lasts until January 6th, which is the day of Epiphany, a word meaning “revealing,” referring to the revealing of Jesus to the world. Epiphany is a season marked by growth in Christ, and it lasts until Lent.
Each spring, there are 7 Sundays of Lent. Lent is an Old English word for “length,” referring to the lengthening days of spring. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and like Advent, Lent is another period of spiritual preparation, marked by fasting, including the final Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, when many churches re-enact Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week, during which we have a few other special days. There is Maundy Thursday, remembering the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples, when he washed their feet and gave them the practice of communion. That Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples was the Passover Seder is the first of two times the Jewish feasts intersect with Christian holidays. The next special day of Holy Week is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
Then on Sunday we gather together with great joy to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil through his resurrection! Easter is the high point of the Christian calendar. The feast of Easter, then, lasts for a few more weeks, until the Sundays of Jesus’ Ascension, remembering his return to his father, and of Pentecost, remembering the giving of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church. This is another place Jewish and Christian holidays intersect, as the Church began on the same day as one of the Jewish feasts, the Feast of Weeks.
From there the Christian calendar enters into the long period of growth called Ordinary Time. Look at the calendar above, and you’ll notice that there are colors for each of the Christian seasons. Ordinary Time, for example, is green. At Faith Church we display those colors on our communion table up front, as well as on the back of our weekly bulletin.
The Christian calendar can be a helpful method for us, the church, to remember and re-enact the story of Jesus, just as God wanted Israel to do the same with the story of their Exodus to the Promised Land. The church I grew up in observed Christmas and Easter, so when I was hired at Faith Church the Christian calendar was new. But in 16 years I have come to deeply appreciate its rhythm of helping the church enter into the story of Jesus. Many of us live overly-busy lives, distracted from the mission of the Kingdom of God. The Christian calendar helps refocus us on that mission, and thus I commend it to you. No, it is not a biblical practice that is commanded by God, but it does flow from his heart for the holidays!
Tomorrow, in our fifth and final post in this series on the Jewish feasts of Deuteronomy 16, we continue examining God’s heart for the holidays with two more themes that Christians can apply to our lives.