Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Observing the Liturgical Year

The Church Year
Growing up Baptist  the liturgical calendar, also called the Church Year, meant nothing to me. I didn't even know such a thing existed. In my understanding, advent was a cool word to describe Christmas time. Lent was a time to eat fish and give up caffeine or sugar. And most people I knew who practiced Lent lived immoral lives anyway, which made wonder, "why even bother?"

Though I no longer claim any denomination, I am still relatively "baptistic" in my ecclesiology--favoring independence in polity and immersion as public testimony of conversion. Still, I've always been enchanted by High Churches and by Anglicanism, specifically--maybe because of its the gorgeous churches, my fascination with Tudor England, my appreciation for Thomas Cranmer or John Wesley, or C.S. Lewis, or J.I. Packer or N.T. Wright.  At any rate, I don't plan on ever entering into an Anglican or liturgical fold. So why write about benefits of some observance of the liturgical calendar? I think the Church Year provides some benefits for all Christians, even Baptists, or baptist like non denominational Christians like me.   


Making Much of the Important Things
Most obviously and most importantly, liturgical calendars aid in our being intentional in our remembrance and celebration of significant events in Christianity.
Usually when people have parties, its a way of celebration. We celebrate academic achievement, personal accomplishments, marriages, holidays or even the Dallas Cowboys--especially the Dallas Cowboys. In America, we celebrate days that are key to our history and our identity. In the same way the Church Year provides a way for making much of key teachings and events that form our identity as Christians.



Connection with the Church Universal
Christianity has a rich history. It is also has wide, diverse expression that infuses across  cultural and time barriers. With Jesus death, resurrection, ascension and the ensuring persecution of believers, Christianity exploded around the globe. When Christians collectively observe and celebrate seasons they are united together in ways that transcend cultures and time. Observation of the Church Year connects us with the thousands of Christians who have observed it in past generations.  


Christianity is global and timeless. We should not feel the Old Testament narratives of Israel as  foreign. Because we are God's people, Israel's story is our story. The same is true with the Church. What has happened historically be it the great Ecumenical Councils, the Reformation or the Great Awakening,  is our legacy, our story. When we participate in the Church Year we in a small way continue our identification with this grand narrative.

Doctrinal Celebration
The Liturgical Calendar provides twofold doctrinal celebration. Not only are essential doctrines taught in word, they are fleshed out in real life by meditation and celebration.The physical and spiritual are not divorced. Organic reinforced elements aid our spiritual development.  That’s why quiet reflection of our Lord’s death while holding bread and the cup so powerfully affects us. Services of remembrance and seasons of practice allow us to celebrate our doctrine through handling elements.


Emotional Enrichment
It wasn't until I entered seminary that I attended a Good Friday Service. It impacted me deeply. After spending a significant season meditating on His saving work, there was extraordinary enrichment to my emotional life while eating and drinking the Lord's Supper. Last year, in particular, as I held the cup I was overwhelmed with Christ's taking the cup of the Father's wrath so I could drink this cup of grace. My affections were deeply stirred, my eyes were filled with tears, my heart erupted in praise. I was driven to deep worship. 


Often conservative Christians  diminish the significance of human feeling as being more base than the higher plane of spiritually. Its a grave mistake to drive a wedge between the physical and spiritual. So much of the Psalter is concerned with right feeling. True Christian spirituality includes the physical. 



Soul Pacing
Our busy Western culture desperately needs to slow down. Daily feeding in Scripture should be the normative pattern for believers. But in addition to daily reflection, Christians need seasons of purposeful reflection, rest and meditation. Advent provides a quiet, purposeful celebration of Christ's birth and incarnation. It is especially relevant in countering our culture's frantic consumerism during the Christmas season. Lent prepares our hearts with soul searching and repentance in anticipation of our Lord's Work. Easter celebrates the magnificent, victorious resurrection of our Lord. Kingdomtide allows for a recovery of the Kingdom which dominated Jesus' teachings, and allows for purposeful missional living. 


So many of us are living in utter exhaustion. We're weary because we have not been intentional in resting in God. Relationship with God is the nourishment we crave. One good tool in intentional rest are the seasons of contemplation the Church Year provides.

Conclusion 

Informal, Protestant Christianity desperately needs to recover the quiet, serious, inner reflection that can be gained in observing church holidays. We're prone to ignore heritage in favor of innovation. The Church Year provides participation in our own heritage, doctrinal celebration, emotional enrichment and soul pacing. I have not fully participated in the Church Year, but what I have participated in--Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Kingdomtide and Advent, has been very helpful to me. During these seasons I have made it a point to intentionally prepare my heart over several weeks which climaxes in celebratory services. Mainly I have redirected my Bible reading and other reading to help me in prolonged focus. Such extended reading and meditation has deeply enriched my faith. And that, if not for anything else, makes the Church Year a worthy endeavor.