As fall approaches, I look forward to pumpkin spice latte and the change in the color of the leaves. Every year, my family and I look forward to the different seasons. Each season brings its own unique rhythm, weather, traditions, and memories. Spring, summer, fall, and winter can be powerful reminders of the seasons and rhythms of the spiritual life.
The Christian life has different seasons just as the seasons of nature. Each of these seasons help to remind us of the multidimensional nature of the Christian faith. As Anglicans, our faith revolves around the seasons of the Church Year. The Church Year sets aside certain days and seasons of each year to recall and celebrate various events in the life of Jesus Christ.
The church year calls us outside of our own time and reminds of God’s time, which is holy time or sanctification of time. Mark Galli reminds us, “The church calendar aims at nothing less than to change the way we experience time and perceive reality.” As Anglicans, our liturgy reminds us of the importance of following Jesus throughout the Christian Year.
So where did it all begin? The early church began to remember the various themes of the gospel of Jesus Christ by celebrating different seasons of the Christian year. By the fourth century, churches in the Holy Land began to develop liturgies to mark the days of Holy Week and Easter at holy sites to commemorate the life and death of Jesus. Pilgrims began to travel to Jerusalem to participate in these ceremonies and eventually brought the practices back with them to their countries of origin. Today, many different Christian traditions continue to place an important role on remembering the seasons of the Christian year.
The Church Year involves an annual cycle of seasons including Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. Each season has its own unique set of prayers, colors, and themes which center on the gospel of Jesus Christ and prepare us for our journey of faith. A quick overview of the seasons of the church calendar and their meanings follows:
The season of Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year for Christians all over the world. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). Advent focuses on preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah, with particular attention to John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophets. It concludes with the announcement to Mary that she will bear the Son of God.
The season following Christmas is Epiphany, in which the church proclaims Jesus to the world as Son of God, Lord, and King. Many churches remember the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to the Christ child, whereby they reveal Jesus to the world as Lord and King. This season places a strong emphasis on the human nature of Christ. Epiphany means “manifestation,” “appearance,” or “vision of God.”
At Lent, we remember Christ’s temptation, suffering, and death. During Easter, we celebrate the glorious resurrection of Christ. Lent is a forty day period beginning on Ash Wednesday that concludes the day before Easter. The climax of Lent is Holy Week, which is the week immediately preceding Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is observed in many Christian churches as a time to commemorate and enact the last week of Jesus’ life, his suffering (Passion), and his death, through various observances and services of worship. This usually includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday observances. Lent is not a time of gloom, but of intentional repentance in the light of God’s grace.
The Easter season is the fifty days from Resurrection Sunday to Pentecost Sunday, and includes Ascension Day. Easter season celebrates the fact that “Christ is Risen!” It recognizes God’s ongoing work of establishing new creation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also celebrates the hope of that work being culminated in a new heaven and a new earth.
Literally meaning “fifty days after,” the day of Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter. At Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives and the church. The season is used to celebrate the reality that God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, continues to work in, through, and among His people.
The final season is commonly referred to as “Ordinary Time.” The season’s name comes, not from ordinary, but the word “ordinal,” which means counted time. The time, beginning on the first Sunday after Pentecost, is used to focus on specific themes of interest or importance to a local church.
Bringing it Home
The seasons of the Christian year have been a wonderful discipleship tool that the church has used to celebrate the major events of the life of Jesus and the Kingdom of God for centuries. The seasons of the Church Year can also be a helpful way for your family to celebrate the major themes of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home with your children. Throughout the year, you can follow the seasons with your children with meaningful traditions that include Bible readings, prayers, and crafts.
Photo: Public Domain
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.