The Church Calendar: Jesus’ Life and Ours

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that the Church Calendar follows the life of Jesus and tries to cover nearly the full range of human experiences. Today I want to unpack that a little bit.

The Life of Jesus in the Church Calendar

When we say that, we’re not just talking about Jesus’ earthly life. The calendar covers the whole existence of the Son of God all the way from eternity past to his future and eternal rule and reign.

  • We begin the Church Calendar with Advent. We feel the world’s darkness that existed before God ever came among us in Jesus, and we anticipate and cry out for his arrival, preparing for it in hope.
  • In Christmas, we generously celebrate that God did come as a child in Jesus and the time of his work on earth has begun.
  • Epiphany reflects on Jesus’ entire life and ministry and how it revealed the light of God to all people. We meditate on how we might reflect that ministry and light in the world today.
  • Lent focuses on sin and mortality as we follow Jesus to the cross.
  • But in Easter, we feast and sing that Jesus rose and that we live in light of this resurrection today.
  • Pentecost invites us to reflect on the intimacy of Jesus’ own Spirit within us, the gifts in our communities, and the global scope of God’s work in the world through his Spirit in us in the world.
  • That blurs into Ordinary Time, which reminds us that Jesus’ work today is quiet, and how so much of faith is lived in the mundane rhythms of time.
  • And lastly, Kingdomtide has us dwell on Christ’s kingship rule for today and eternity, and its implications for our justice work in this world now.
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What’s the Point of the Church Calendar?

Every major faith has a religious calendar of festivals, holy days, and periods of fasting and feasting– even secular humanism. There seems to be some ancient wisdom here about humans, but what might it be?

Religious calendars are a humble admission of human limits. And rather than limiting our engagement with God, I’d argue the Church Calendar expands it by addressing three problems all humans have:

1. We can’t think all the things at all the time.

Christians believe many truths at once: God is transcendent but also imminent. God is three yet one. Jesus was God and man, a servant yet the king of the universe. Humans are sinful and weak, yet are the beloved crowns of creation. Humans die but are eternal. We remember the past, fully exist in the present, and look to the future.

If you’re a Christian, you likely agree with those statements, but I doubt you can hold and reflect on all of them in your mind at the same time.

2. Our thoughts of God are always off in some way.

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Lent & Ash Wednesday for Kids (….or maybe not)

rabu-abuLast night, my church had their Ash Wednesday service. I had the honor of helping lead the liturgy by offering the greeting and opening introduction/ explanation. Unlike most times we gather, the kids stayed in the service so I was asked to make sure my opening words were at least somewhat comprehensive to children.

This turned out to be one of the most helpful exercises for me. I ended up spending more time thinking through these brief opening words than I normally do and crafting each line as intentionally as possible. And so, for the heck of it, I thought I’d throw this up on the blog for anyone who was struggling with explaining Lent and/or Ash Wednesday to their young ones, and also to get your thoughts on how best to communicate this to kids. Here’s what I said:

(Lent: Two things hold us back)

Tonight kicks off the Church season of Lent. Most all of us live our lives wanting to be better people than we are right now. But if we’re honest, there are two things that can get in the way of that sometimes and make us frustrated as we try and become the people we want to be.
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Lent begins tomorrow. (Will you just give it a try?)

Jesus & The Cross

I grew up in a church tradition that did not take seriously the Christian Church Calendar. Even as I went to college and moved into communities that took some level of tradition more seriously (which was usually limited to quoting Puritans and Reformers in sermons), the Church Calendar wasn’t that big of a deal. It was seen as something sort-of cool that could be incorporated into the already established life of the Church; a buffet from which leaders could pick and choose some aspects that might be helpful in organizing some sermon series or songs. But it certainly wasn’t seen as something that a church should actually incorporate itself into, or build it’s own rhythm around.

I’ve had the privilege of having this paradigm rocked the past several years at my church, and have fallen in love with the Church calendar. It influences much of the rhythm and timbre of my everyday life–both ecclesial and otherwise. I find such life in living within a stream of thought that was not simply created within the past generation by baptizing modern Western American cultural ideas.

I love finding myself as embedded within the cloud of witnesses that have gone before me as possible–even those I may disagree with passionately and fundamentally. Because, at the end of the day, they are my family, and families have traditions. Sure, you can be “that guy” that does his own thing and doesn’t participate in the family rhythms, but where’s the life in that?

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Ordinary Time: It’s still Pentecost….but not really (but sort of)

angie-iver-woman-hands-watercolorThe wisdom and beauty of the Church Calendar never ceases to amaze me.

After the Holy Day of Pentecost happened a few Sundays ago, I turned to my favorite daily prayer site, MorningPrayer.isThis site always has a banner along the top displaying the current church calendar season. I was surprised to see, days after Pentecost, the words “Ordinary Time” splayed across the site.

Isn’t it the season of Pentecost?

So, I googled it, and I found out that there’s no such thing as Pentecost Season.

Pentecost is just a single, holy day in the Christian Church Calendar. It’s when we celebrate the falling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon Christian believers, 50 days after the Resurrection (Easter). Kind of a big deal, right? Might it deserve a season?

And though it’s not a season, it’s actually far more beautiful than that.
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Pentecost: spirituality vs. Spirituality


I don’t know about you, but too often I divorce spirituality from the Holy Spirit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that “spirituality” is a matter between my spirit and the Holy Spirit. But I too often define spirituality as fundamentally being about my spirit–stirring it up and syncing it up to God. Too often, when contemplating my own spirituality, my thoughts first turn to how I can ” feel the Spirit more”.

If I’m honest, I too often think that a healthy and vibrant spirituality is ultimately defined by intense spiritual experience (emotions, gifts, fruits, and such). And yes, these are definitely products of a vibrant Spirituality, but don’t we too often pursue the product, and ultimately miss the point? Most of the time, I think that if I simply achieve those “experiences”, I have been “successful.”

True “Spirit-uality” is not first and foremost about the state of my spirit. Instead, it is about developing a dynamic vitality with the Holy Spirit. It’s about being swept up in a force greater than myself–a person greater than myself.
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Merry Christmas Season!!!


As of today, it is Christmas season!

Today, we turn our minds from the sin that required God to take human form in Jesus Christ, and we give ourselves the freedom to respond with unfettered joy to this fact. We give gifts in response to the gift that’s been given to us; we sing songs in response to the heavenly angelic song that inaugurated his birth; we eat good food with others in response to the body of Christ–the bread of life–having come among us.

Today begins the culmination of our thinking and meditating these past 4 and half weeks. This Advent, I’ve been trying to connect this time to parts of life that we may not usually associate with it. And so, if you have any time and interest, here are those posts from this year’s Advent series (and by the way, holy crap. I had no idea how much I had written this year until I made this list).

May they help you enter into this next Church season with depth and joy. (You can also check out last year’s series, if you want.) Continue reading

Advent & Christmas: they’re not the same thing (Ode to a Christian Calendar)

Munch-melancholyWell, it’s the Eve of Christmas season. Yes, that’s right, Christmas is not only an entire season in the Church calendar, but it’s a season that is distinct from Advent.

I know many in the global church know this fact, but I only learned it a couple of years ago, and each year it seems I have to be reminded. (Hopefully with this post, I can start internalizing it some.)

I find it interesting that we in the West have not only removed the “seasonal” aspects of the holiday, but have reduced this nearly two-month-long Advent/Christmas time into a single day on which we put most of our attention.

So why is the calendar structured like this? And what do we lose when we boil this down to one day?
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Holy Day Apathy & Holy Years to Come

I found myself sitting in our joint Maundy Thursday service alongside the other congregation from which we rent space, frustrated. I was a little distracted because I had arrived late and my adrenaline was still going, making my senses heightened and my self-diagnosed ADD kick-in. I was also mad at myself for my own liturgical snobbiness, which had taken note that the service was technically a Good Friday liturgy that they were using on Thursday.

Now, I know I can go too far in chasing mystical and intense dynamics in my relating to God. But still, I was so wanting to feel God on this night, and I sat there in this service confused and saddened at my failure in finding it.

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Ash Wednesday & Lent 2012: how are you observing?

[For those in Philadelphia: the liberti church that meets in the Fishtown neighborhood is having an Ash Wednesday service tonight at 7:30. For those in Center City, I will be going to a 6pm service at the Church of the Holy Trinity right on Rittenhouse park. I hope to see you there.]

It’s Ash Wednesday!

(Here’s the prayer for this Holy Day that millions of Christians around the world are praying today–feel free to join them.)

Lent really is my favorite time of year. And Ash Wednesday is particularly special. We spend these weeks meditating on those ways in which we need God the most, and he meets us in it. As we lead up to the celebration of God dying and rising again, we meditate upon those reasons why he needed to come and do it in the first place–namely, that this world is not what it will be, and God took it in his hands to accomplish what was needed to get us there.
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Prayer and an N.T. Wright Quote on Easter Sunday

Easter ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. It is any wonder people find hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? It is any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long over due that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.

Bishop N.T. Wright (thanks to Dano for the quote)

O God, who hath made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in thy Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship thee in security and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

— from the Book of Common Prayer

you can also participate in Holy Week by joining Christians all over the world each day in morning prayer and evening prayer.

On Holy Saturday: “Better Your Arms Around Me” (a poem)


Better Your Arms Around Me

You know why I’m standing here.
You know what I’m going to say.
The look behind your eyes betrays you.
Your sleeping head goes away.

Dreams lie as you do;
Dreams lie all night;
like you do.

Pacing back and forth on Friday,
Before you lay these words in my head.
Hoping my closed mouth mined gold
to give you, to give you.
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Prayer for Holy Saturday in Holy Week

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— from the Book of Common Prayer

you can also participate in Holy Week by joining Christians all over the world each day in morning prayer and evening prayer.

Prayer for Maundy Thursday in Holy Week

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— from the Book of Common Prayer

you can also participate in Holy Week by joining Christians all over the world each day in morning prayer and evening prayer.

It’s that time of year again….Lent.

I was just reading the article I wrote last year when I gave up Facebook for Lent. So much has changed. I remember that last year I saw fasting during Lent as some Catholic thing that might be a good idea to do. Also, my reason for giving up Facebook was to help me in the areas of procrastination and discipline.

On the discipline front, it’s funny to have watched how things have played out since then; even more so in light of this year’s Lent. As I finished up that second semester of seminary, my procrastination and discipline issues only worsened.As I dropped out and spent the summer woefully unemployed and poor, my nights got later, I became completely unproductive on nearly every front, and my soul seemed to shrivel because of my lack of discipline and consistent pursuit of God.

In the Fall I moved to a new church community and slowly started to become revived. For the first time I began to understand Calvin’s assertion that theology is only truly theology when it’s lived out. I can no longer divorce orthodoxy from obedience. As time went on, I got swept up in the various means of grace that God has given his church (to be talked of more later), and I was drawn to Him. In the midst of my “dry season” (as we charismatics call them) I feebly reached for a few resources to keep the dwindling flame alive. I eventually got my hands on a sweet copy of the Book of Common Prayer. As of about a month ago, after getting some help, I actually began getting up at a consistent early time and doing some morning devotions. I’ve even been doing some evening devotions as well. I’ve been more consistent in my thinking, writing, and planning. It’s been amazing. I feel my soul revived. After reading that Lent post from last year, I can’t help but wonder if this newfound discipline and productivity are the fruits of the grace obtained in last year’s Lent season.

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