The history of the church has been marked by many developments in its worship of Christ. One of the most significant developments has been the Christian Year or the Church Calendar. While many modern-day Christians may be unfamiliar with all of its specific days and seasons, most denominations and traditions have celebrated the life of Jesus through this annual order of worship. Christ Community Church observes the Church Calendar in an effort to focus our attention on the extraordinary events of Christ’s incarnation: birth, baptism, miracles, temptation, last supper, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension. If you are new to the Church Calendar, we would like to orient you by providing the wheel graphic above, which can be downloaded here, and by explaining the significance of each season below. If you have any questions about anything you see here, find an elder at a service or email us.
The Christian year is divided into two sections: the celebratory season and ordinary season. The celebratory season begins with Advent and ends with Trinity Sunday. This season focuses our attention on the life of Christ and provides a coherency to the narrative of both the Old and New Testaments. The following ordinary season steps outside of these specific events and challenges us to embody what was learned during the celebratory season. The contrast between the structure of the celebratory season and the freedom during the ordinary season gives a rhythm to community life that perpetuates anticipation.
The celebratory season begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. The liturgy of Sunday morning worship takes a noticeable turn. The Advent wreath and candles are incorporated into the service as are classic songs and hymns of anticipation (O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, etc.). The sanctuary undergoes a transformation to include greenery (evergreen branches symbolize life during the dark and cold months) and the color purple (anticipation of the shed blood of Christ). The lectionary readings and sermon texts address either Old Testament prophesies of the birth of the Messiah or their New Testament fulfillment.
Advent simply means “coming” and implies anticipation. This season has a dual focus. The first advent of Christ–His incarnation–and the second advent–His return–are woven throughout the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. For further reading on the season of Advent, see pastor Ross Guthrie’s article, On Advent.
Advent culminates on December 25 as the church celebrates the incarnation of Christ, the Word made flesh. All of the anticipation pays off as we gather together on Christmas morning and sing “Joy to the World, Lord is Come!” By celebrating His first advent, we can imagine the joy of His second. While Christmas morning is the height of the preceding anticipation, traditionally, Christmas has spanned a twelve day period (hence the “twelve days of Christmas”).
Christ Community Church typically holds a Christmas Eve service as well as a Christmas morning service. Christmas Eve is a traditional “lessons and carols” service which consists of Scripture readings (lessons), traditional corresponding hymns (carols), and ends with a candlelight hymn. This service is a great opportunity to help us and our families to end the day with a powerful reminder of the purpose of our celebration. The Christmas morning service follows a typical liturgy with music, sermon, and eucharist.
The Epiphany season follows Christmastide and begins on January 6. Interestingly, this “feast day” was originally set aside for celebrating the incarnation of Christ. However, since December 25 claimed that celebration, January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, came to focus on three events in the life of Christ. First, the visit of the Magi (Luke 2:1–12) celebrates the epiphany, or revelation, of Christ to the Gentiles. Secondly, the baptism of Christ celebrates epiphany of Christ as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. Thirdly, Christ’s miracle at the Wedding in Cana is celebrated as well. As we reflect on these events, the season of Epiphany inspires us to reflect on Christ’s revelation to ourselves and requires us to consider how we might, in turn, reveal Him to the nations.
Traditionally, Christ Community Church has marked this special occasion by participating in a community-wide progressive dinner. In part, this is because the early church celebrated the Epiphany by progressing from one holy site in Jerusalem to the next to hear preaching, teaching, and Scripture readings. Plans for this special evening should be brewing by the preceding December so listen for instructions on how to participate.
Technically, the church calendar reverts back to a short season of Ordinary Time after the feast of the Epiphany. However, at Christ Community Church, we remain in the season of Epiphany until Ash Wednesday.
For further reading on the season of Epiphany, see pastor Ross’ article, “Why Epiphany.”
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and spans a forty-day period (not counting Sundays) ending on Holy Week. These forty days represent the forty days Christ spent in the desert after His baptism. The Lenten season, which simply means “spring season,” is characterized by penitence and fasting. Just as Christ willfully suffered and fasted during His temptation, we also endure a time of voluntary suffering. This is a time for us as a community to concentrate our hearts on the suffering Christ took upon Himself as we prepare for Holy Week. We are encouraged to “give something up” for this reason, be it food, soda, or television, for example. Children can also participate. Fasting may be a foreign concept to some so seeking the council of an elder or mentor is always a good idea. It is important to note that during the Lenten season, Sundays are excluded from fast days because every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, fasting is to be joyfully set aside for this purpose.
CCC holds an Ash Wednesday service to begin this season. It is usually held in the evening and exhibits a sombre tone. Dimmed lights, subdued songs of repentance, and reminders of our mortality are set the mood for the following season. The service ends with the imposition of ashes. In this ceremonial act, participants are marked with the sign of the cross on the forehead as they hear the words “from dust you have come, to dust you shall return” spoken. Interestingly, the ashes used for this purpose are supplied by burning the palm leaves used in the Palm Sunday service the previous year.
For further reading on the season of Lent, see Pastor Ross’ article, “On the Season of Lent.”
The Lenten season ends at Holy Week, the seven days prior to Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of this celebratory week and Christ Community Church has a lot going on during this time.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry (Luke 19:28–40) into Jerusalem before He was crucified. As a church, we will gather outside, take up palm branches and process around the church building into the sanctuary while singing (which can be a difficult task and gets harder every year). This joyous service reflects the joyous reception of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It also provides a stark contrast between this event and the crucifixion event that followed only days afterward.
Maundy Thursday corresponds to the last supper Jesus ate with His disciples in the upper room. The term maundy is where we get our word mandate. During this meal Christ gave His disciples a “new mandate” or “new commandment:” to love as He had loved (John 13:34). Christ was about to demonstrate His love by offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
At CCC, Maundy Thursday is celebrated with a banquet called the Jesus Feast. While some confuse the Jesus Feast with the traditional Jewish Passover Seder meal, it is quite different. The menu includes lamb, symbolizing Christ, humus, pita bread, olives, milk and honey, feta cheese, tabouli, caesar salad, honey cake, water and wine. A liturgy takes place giving each item significance. Participants must RSVP for this event as well as contribute an item. Announcements should begin in early spring.
Good Friday is perhaps one of the most sombre and powerful services in the Church Calendar. This day corresponds to the evening Christ was crucified. Christ Community Church celebrates this day with a Tenebrae service. Tenebrae is a latin word meaning “darkness.” This service centers around the seven last sayings of Christ on the cross. As each saying is read aloud, a corresponding homily (or short sermon) is preached by different speakers. The service begins with seven lit candles in the front of the sanctuary. A candle is extinguished after each homily leaving the sanctuary in darkness and silence. Women from the congregation will remove the Lenten clothe from the altar reminding us of the women who attended to Christ’s lifeless body. We leave the Sanctuary in silence and eagerly await for the forthcoming Easter service.
Holy Saturday follows Good Friday. While CCC has held quiet prayer services on this day, it is generally not observed corporately. Holy Saturday is an opportunity to imagine the grief and hopelessness Christ’s disciples felt after He was buried in the tomb.
Having observed the emotional ups and downs of Holy Week, we are desperate for the glorious celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is this celebration that is the crescendo of the Christian Year. All of the sentiments, thoughts, emotions, celebrations, prophesies, tensions, and mysteries from the previous seasons become meaningful in the resurrection. It is in this moment that we are reminded of the triumph over death that Christ has won since before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
As the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ is the apex of the Christian year, it is celebrated over several Sundays until Pentecost Sunday. Within this time, we also observe and celebrate the Ascension of Christ into Heaven on Ascension Sunday. This event is an essential component of the Gospel and has eternal implications for the Church. Pentecost is also a vital event in the Gospel story as it celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. The celebratory season ends on Trinity Sunday, a day we confess and marvel at the mystery of God as the Three-in-One and One-in-Three.
For further reading on Eastertide, see Pastor Ross’ article “On the Season of Easter.”
In contrast to the celebratory season, Ordinary Season is marked by a noticeable absence of thematic focus. While there are occasional days of celebration during this season (All Saints Day, Christ the King Sunday, etc.), there is a tremendous amount of freedom for each particular congregation observing the church calendar. While the Celebratory Season focuses primarily on the Gospel readings and the events in the life of Christ, Ordinary Season allows us to focus on the other lectionary offerings such as the Epistles, Old Testament readings, or even the Psalms.
Christ Community Church emphasizes that the word ordinary comes from the word ordinal, which means “to count.” Thus, the Ordinary Season becomes a season of counting the days. This has a double-meaning. First, we are counting the days until the Celebratory Season begins. This anticipation is more than just waiting for the next church year to begin but also requires us to count the days for Christ’s return. The second meaning is that we make these days count. This is an opportunity for the church to consider how to live the gospel out so that at the return of our Lord, he may find us faithfully serving him by loving our neighbors. Therefore, any themes that rise during this season will be varied as there are various ways this can be accomplished. As mentioned above, the liturgical freedom found in Ordinary Season contrasts with the regimented themes of the Celebratory season and results in a perpetual anticipation. Such anticipation is important in the life of the Christian as we are constantly in a state of waiting for the return of Christ.
For further reading on Ordinary Season, see Pastor Ross’ article, “On Ordinary Season.”