A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Looking for a New Rhythm of Life
The holidays are upon us again, reminding Christians in American that we have only two religious holidays that we are allowed to observe: Christmas and Easter. Along with the rest of the nation, we busily spend our money on holiday-related consumer goods, but we also devote ourselves to a total of approximately two hours of religious observance. That’s all that our calendar will allow.
There is something wrong with this, at least for Christians. What many (particularly those in Protestant, evangelical traditions) seem to forget (or perhaps never realized), is that we are living the rhythms of our lives by the wrong calendar. There is a different calendar for us that meanders and strolls rather than sprints and constantly gasps for breath. It’s a calendar that leads in deep reflection and worship rather than in squirrel cage-demands and mandated national observances.
Christians have something called the Church Year. That calendar begins the year in late November with the observance of Advent (the coming of Jesus), which runs then continuously through Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost, and then something called Ordinary time (the season when our immersion in worship remembers that we live out the Jesus life one day at a time). Churches that observe this calendar do so with colors, prayers, liturgies, music, and even feasts. During the week people have resources of prayer and devotion that follow these seasons throughout each day.
I did not grow up observing the calendar of the Church Year, but I’ve become fascinated with the richness and depth of a shared rhythm of life that is ordered around what we consider to be the greatest story of the ages: The story of God’s redeeming and reconciling work in and through Jesus.
What puzzles me is how often I share my interest in the Church Year and find my Christian friends recoiling from the idea as though I was suggesting a fifty-mile pilgrimage along a hard, rocky road on our bare knees. Cautions against legalism and deadness rise to the surface and the invitation to find the order of life in Jesus’ story often falls flat.
It’s the standard, twelve-month calendar that many seem to prefer. Why would we need a calendar with all that unnecessary religious stuff when we’ve got one that serves both the nation and the church (in that order)? You know that calendar: It’s called the Gregorian Calendar, and it’s months are named after Roman gods and goddesses and even a couple of dead Roman emperors. Yes, indeed—there’s a rhythm of life we Christians should easily embrace.
Of course I’m being just a tad sarcastic (or is it ironic?). I’m not against the Gregorian calendar. After all, it’s how most of the world schedules travel and work days and other movements of human life. But for we who follow Jesus, there should be a deeper rhythm that plays beneath all of that. Observing the Church Year should keep us in a perpetual state of wonder, thanks, and worship. Yes, anything can be degraded so that it is dead and meaningless (even things like marriage, prayer, and “contemporary” worship). That’s no excuse for letting our lives be framed by anything other than Jesus.