What is the church year?
At Lake Shore, we observe the seasons of the church year in our worship services and other activities. In the same way that we celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries in our family lives, we join Christians of many other traditions in celebrating important events in the life of the church. The church year is divided into two major spans of time: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; and Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The remainder of the year following Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time and focuses on the mission of the church in the world.
Advent begins the Christian year. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.” With each week focused on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love, Christians traditionally celebrate these four weeks as a time to reflect on and anticipate the “coming” of Christ at Christmas as well as the “coming” of Christ at the end of time. The main preparations Christians make to welcome Christ anew into their lives is through self-examination and repentance. Advent is a time to notice the longing that runs through the silent crevices in our souls. It helps us learn to wait in patience for that longing to be filled rather than hiding it or numbing it with the noise of the world this season. Advent is also a time to embrace silence and stillness in order to see more clearly and hear more keenly the movement of the Spirit of God. Even though we are frequently distracted and diverted from attention to this movement within us, the season of Advent reminds us to turn inward yet again and seek the God that is to be found within us. Finally, Advent is a time to rejoice with hope and expectation that what we say we believe will, in fact, be revealed in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.
Contrary to what we tend to think, Christmas is not just a day, but a season of the church year. In most Western church traditions the Christmas Season begins at sunset on Christmas Eve, December 24, and lasts through January 5. Since this time includes twelve days, the season of Christmas is known in many places as the Twelve Days of Christmas. In traditions which follow the older custom of counting the days beginning at sundown, the evening of January 5th is the Twelfth Night. The Sunday after Christmas is often called Christmastide, which is also often used as the name for the season itself. During these days we continue to keep our Advent wreath with all of the candles lit, including the Christ candle, to honor the birth we continue to celebrate.
Epiphany Sunday is the closest Sunday to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The term “epiphany” means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” Epiphany Sunday is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas. In traditional Christian churches Christmas, as well as Easter, is celebrated as a period of time, a season of the church year, rather than just a day. Christmas begins with Christmas Day, December 25, and lasts for Twelve Days until Epiphany, January 6, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. For many Protestant church traditions (Lake Shore included), the season of Epiphany extends from today until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter.
In 2003 Lake Shore created the word “epiphillon” from the words “Epiphany” and “carillon.” During the Epiphany season, the trilling of the bells beckons us to look for the Christ Child and carry the light into the world.
Originating in the fourth century of the church, Lent spans 40 weekdays (symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness) beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, but since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Some churches today still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor). Today, some people give up a vice, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter.
Easter Sunday is the highest of holy days in our Christian tradition. This is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the central event to our Christian faith, the day in which we understand God’s power not simply to triumph over death, but to move through death. Through many feel that Easter is solely about joy, this joy can be grasped only if one has walked through the previous days leading to the death of Jesus, an experience that should have ended everything. Instead, it became the event that meant never again would we need to deny the pain of life, or feel God isn’t present in it. For God is present walking us through each step.
On the seventh and final Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. On this day we examine the meaning of the ascension for our lives, both individually and as a community.
Pentecost means “Fiftieth Day” in Greek and falls on the 50th day after Easter. Celebrated first as part of the Feast of Weeks in which devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem, Pentecost is the third great festival of the Christian year in addition to Christmas and Easter and marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers. For that reason Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the church.” The color for Pentecost is red, signifying the flames of the Spirit as it descended in the books of Acts. Rev. Lowell Grishom describes Pentecost in the following way: “The feast day of Pentecost remembers a day not long after Jesus’ resurrection when the energy of the Spirit was poured out in power upon the Church. It was a unifying Spirit that crossed the artificial boundaries of language, race and culture. People could speak and be understood; strangers heard one another; communion happened. The Spirit breathes peace. Here’s what seems to happen when people allow this divine Spirit to energize them: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. We call that the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’ It’s a description of the qualities of Jesus. That’s who we are and whom we are to become.”
Ordinary time covers the Sundays after Pentecost until Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday prior to the beginning of Advent. Ordinary takes its name not from “mundane” or “common,” but from “ordinal” as these Sundays are “counted” time between these Sundays.