Christ Lutheran is a liturgical and historic church, seeing itself (as a part of the ELCA and the broader Lutheran tradition) in continuity with the historical church. It celebrates the liturgical year, follows the basic western liturgy in its Sunday services, and administers the sacraments as such. Of course, the church is Protestant (a label I will explore in the future) and progressive (the ELCA ordains women and blesses same-sex marriages), but it is so within the context of Tradition.
As I have written before in a reflection on prayer, a mediation on the meaning of “sacrament,” and in a spiritual autobiography, I find the rhythms of grace as measured out in liturgical and historic traditions to bring me closer to God and to a fuller and better participation in the stuff of life. The annual rhythm of the liturgical year, the weekly rhythm of Holy Communion, and the daily rhythm of the Divine Hours all point to the true rhythm of the trinitarian dance in the universe, the true center of an authentic life.
So, starting today, I will begin weekly reflections on the current liturgical season. Sometimes I will reflect, generally, on themes of the season. At other times, I will reflect on the lectionary readings or collect for the week.
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In what’s left of this post, I want to discuss the rhythm of the liturgical year and give a brief primer for thinking about Ordinary Time. The church’s year starts at the end of November with the season called Advent. Advent is the season that looks forward to, and longs for, the coming of Jesus. It recalls the longing for the messiah felt during the Inter-testamental period and it carries overtones of longing for Jesus’s second coming. The season is focused on hope, justice, and yearning. The color is blue (for Protestants) or purple (for Catholics).
After Advent, the church celebrates Christmastide which lasts for twelve days. Christmas is the joyful celebration of the messiah whose incarnation means that God is with us. The color is gold or white. The last of Christmastide is Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the wise men to meet Jesus. Following Epiphany, there is the first period of Ordinary Time. During this period, the church reflects on Jesus’s life and teachings as he eventually heads toward the cross. The color for Ordinary Time is green.
Lent begins next and it is a period of time in which the church focuses on repentance for sin and looks, mournfully, to the death of Jesus on the cross. Christians often fast during Lent as a form of self-discipline and as penance. In addition the repentance during Lent, the church also focuses on the experience of the loss of God. Some churches has emphasized the role of doubt and despair in the life of the Christian during this time, while others focus on the deep-seated injustices in the world and a plea to God to rectify the problem. The color of Lent is purple. It concludes with Passion Week and, especially, the Triduum, in which the last week of Jesus’s life is reenacted.
After Lent, Eastertide begins. Eastertide is a celebration of Jesus’s victory over Death, Hell, and Satan. Christians celebrate his resurrection and look toward their eventual resurrections. The color is gold or white. The last day of Eastertide is Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the sending of the new church into the world. Pentecost, relying as it does on the date of Easter, can take place anywhere from mid May to mid June. The color is red.
After Pentecost, the church moves into the season that Protestants usually call the Season after Pentecost, but which Catholics (since 1970) have called Ordinary Time. I prefer the Catholic label because it emphasizes the present. During Ordinary Time, the church is thought of as on mission. It has celebrated its great feasts, remembered what God has done, and is in the world for the sake of the world. Simply using the label “the season after Pentecost” subordinates the lengthiest season of the liturgical year to secondary importance. But, in calling it Ordinary Time, the church affirms that the ordinary stance of the church is to be “out there,” not “in here.” To this point, some Protestant churches called the last fifteen weeks or so of Ordinary Time “Kingdomtide,” emphasizing the mission of the church in the world to spread the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love, peace, and justice.
I will conclude with this prayer (found here):
God of strength and courage,
in Jesus Christ you set us free from sin and death,
and call us to the risk of faith and service.
Give us grace to follow him
who gave himself for others,
that, by our service,
we may find the life he came to bring. Amen.