Which Calendar Orients Your Life?

We all live with multiple and varied calendars. My work life is regulated by an academic calendar—a schedule of convocations, breaks, exams and class schedules. My national life is regulated by a federal calendar that has declared certain days as “holidays”: Martin Luther King’s birthday, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving Day. My family life is flavored by a “Hallmark” calendar: Valentine’s Day (it’s coming boys!), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.

As part of the Stone-Campbell tradition, particularly Churches of Christ, I grew up with little or no knowledge of a “Christian” calendar. Indeed, we not only neglected it but opposed it, at least those that had any public consciousness such as Christmas and Easter. Galatians 4:10 was almost a rallying cry.

At one level I understand that opposition since all time is God’s time. Is there a need for “special” days or “holy days”? At another level, if someone wants to keep a day to God, let them honor God. Does not Romans 14:5-8 give a person that liberty?

But neither of those considerations really get to what I think is the root value of living within a Christian calendar. Consider Israel (as Paul tells us to do in 1 Corinthians 10:16). The Torah (e.g., Leviticus 23) gave Israel a rhythm of life that rooted their calendar in the mighty acts of God in nature and history. The Sabbath reminded them of God’s creative (Genesis 1-2) and redemptive (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) work for them. The Passover relives the Exodus from Egyptian slavery, the Pentecost celebrates the winter harvest, the Feast of Tabernacles remembers their wilderness experience, and the Day of Atonement receives the forgiveness of sins. Israel’s calendar grounded their lives in the story of God.

The Christian calendar roots life in the story of Jesus. The calendar has “seasons” patterned after the life of Jesus so that a Christian may relive the life of Jesus every year. The Season of Advent (Coming) anticipates the birth of Jesus leading to the Christmas season. The Season of Epiphany celebrates the revelation (appearing) of Jesus, particularly his baptism and transfiguration. The Season of Lent (which means “Spring”) is traditionally a season of fasting (thus 40 days) which prepares Christians for Easter. The Easter season begins with Resurrection day and ends at Pentecost as a celebration of life and new creation. Between Pentecost and Advent is “ordinary time” which focuses on living the life of Jesus in day to day ministry and worship.

The calendar gives Christians an opportunity to liturgically and ritually shape their lives by the story of Jesus. It provides a rhythm that lives in the light of God’s gracious redemptive presence and work for us.

Is the calendar necessary? No, no more than a national calendar is. But calendars do have value. They are tools. They provide a framework for living through seasons—whether they are seasons of nature, or seasons of national life, or seasons of Christian life. The Christian calendar reminds us of what God has done for us, calls us to imitate the life of Jesus and focuses our liturgical energies in line with the historic church through its lectionaries.

Ash Wednesday this year is February 17. That is the first day of Lent. The “ashes,” which are placed on the forehead, is a penitential act by which we remember that we are but “dust and ashes.” Lent, then, becomes a season of seeking God and opening our hearts to God in humble submission.

During Lent, believers following the Christian calendar focus on “letting go and seeking God” out of a hunger for God. We “let go” of whatever hinders us in our union with God and we renew practices in our life—and perhaps focus on particular practices for the season—for the sake of spiritual formation and relationship with God.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How is your life “regulated” by different calendars? What “rules” your life in terms of calendars? What do you know about the “Christian” calendar?
  2. Read Romans 14:5-8 and Galatians 4:10 together. Is Paul confused? Why the difference? What different situations would result in these two polar opposite admonitions? What was the important point for Paul in both readings?
  3. How is the Christian calendar a tool? What would that look like in your life, or how do you use it as a tool? What have you found valuable or problematic?
  4. Would you consider attending a Lent “Ash Wednesday” service? What do you think about the potential value of practicing Lent this season? What does “letting go and seeking God” mean to you?


17 Responses to “Which Calendar Orients Your Life?”

  1.   Terrell Lee Says:

    All right, I’m going to ask something I ought to know but my C of C roots have never emphasized this so I just don’t know even though my preacher friends in the local Baptist and Methodist churches assume I know. I often hear them talk about preaching through the lectionary, something I’ve never done. Why? Well, one reason is that I don’t know what they’re talking about. Is there an annual lectionary someone writes? And I’m assuming it is based somewhat on the Christian calendar. Correct?

    Sure, I’ve preached sermons in timing with the Christian calendar but I’m just needing a little more information.

    So was Mrs. Fowler, my 8th grade teacher, correct? She used to say, “The only stupid question is one you won’t ask.” Or, in asking the question does it take away all doubts and prove one’s limitations? One thing I know for sure…at least Mrs. Fowler would be proud of me! But please don’t tell anyone I asked this question. Just give me the answer.

  2. Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for asking, Terrell. But if you did not want anyone to know, you asked in the wrong forum. :-)

    The lectionary is a series of texts that are associated with that Sunday in the Christian calendar.

    Here are some useful websites which I find helpful.

    http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

    http://www.textweek.com/

    Blessings, friend.

  3.   johnkking Says:

    Terrell,

    Mrs. Fowler might suggest you Google the question before posting it on a blog. Here are a couple of sites where you can find what the recommended texts are for the upcoming Sunday.

    http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

    http://satucket.com/lectionary/

  4.   Terrell Lee Says:

    Dear Johns,
    Thanks for the help, even if you did have to toss in some unsolicited wisdom :-). Man, a guy has to have a tough ego to write on this blog! But just think–if people like me didn’t ask stupid questions and do stupid things, all of us preacher-types would be out of business.

    •   rich Says:

      Terrell
      just remember the “stupid questions and incoherent responses of mine over the last 2 years”you could not imagine how much i have learned.
      and I have avoided this post quite well,i have never even heard of a christian calender.although i am sure that does not even make anyone blink.so keep up those simple questions you guys have got to dumb it down fo me.
      and another one right over my head john mark…
      :-)
      blessings all rich

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Terrell,

      You are my friend and brother. Love you, man. I should have put a smily face in my comment above. Apologies, brother. :-)

  5.   Randall Says:

    JMH,
    Another great post. You didn’t mention Fat Tuesday. Was that just an oversight or did you intentionally not wish to encourage me to gain more weight. ;-)
    Peace,
    Randall

  6.   Frank Says:

    Great post!

    A lot of people in the Churches of Christ have been sort of following the Common Lectionary for years without knowing it. For some of our Bible class curricula, the CL has guided the selection of texts for weekly lessons.

    Years ago, I read an article in Restoration Quarterly by Tim Sensing about lectionary preaching. Just before that, I had a good bit of contact with Protestant preachers of various sorts. All of them made regular reference to “the lectionary.” Not long after that, I started using the Common Lectionary to set up my calendar of preaching. That was one of the very best things that ever happened to my sermonizing. For someone who wants to try lectionary preaching, I recommend the weekly podcasts done by Concordia Seminary. One of their professors lectures on an OT text for an upcoming week. And there’s another lesson on a NT text. Both are done by experts who refer to the Hebrew or Greek of the passage. Those lessons never failed to help me generate a handful of sermon ideas. Best of all, they were actually rooted in the biblical text. (!)

    Too, there are all sorts of books and seminars that help prepare preachers for the next group of texts. For example,

    http://www.yale.edu/sdqsummerterm/div09.htm

  7.   Randall Says:

    Test – this is only a test to see if I can comment or not.

  8.   Terrell Lee Says:

    John Mark,
    You did put in a smiley face!. Hey, my skin is thicker than that. No apology needed; I never read your remark in a critical manner. I knew when I asked the question I was going to get a little grief…I like it.

    However, I know it is good for you to exercise the discipline of apologizing so maybe this was a good thing for you. Please note the smiley face :-).

  9.   Rich W Says:

    My Christian calendar while in college (late 70’s in the time of bus ministries):

    Monday: 7-9 Visitation to encourage the youth
    Tuesday: 7-9 Church basketball team
    Wednesday: 5:30 – 10:00 transport 50 kids to church and home
    Saturday: 8-noon either canvasing bus route or performing maintenance on our fifteen buses.
    Sunday: 6:30 – 1:30 transport 50 kids to church and home and 6-7 evening worship.

    The above was while averaging 20-21 credit hours.

    In my 50’s now, the events are somewhat different but equally time consuming. My Christian calendar is the biggest influence.

    To answer question 3: I’m not a big fan of promoting concepts born from such a highly legalistic system. But with that said, it would be very wise for me to follow several of your suggestions for Lent.

  10.   Rich W Says:

    Sorry, my last response was to question 4.

  11.   rich constant Says:

    well if i hadn’t learned to let go and let god.i would have been in a rubber room at 23 my friends.although there are times now,for reflection just how far i have come.and i always as for help when the noise starts and i loose my focus on my blessings due to stress.

    blessings

  12.   Carisse Says:

    For the last three years, I’ve written lessons for Advent. Although I have been aware of the lectionary and the cycles of the Christian calendar through my work in theological librarianship, I had never used the lectionary texts to structure my study and teaching. It has been very thought-provoking because in looking at all the passages selected for the day, one sees new connections.

    The first time I ever heard a sermon based on the lectionary was in 1982 or 83 in Bethany, WV, at the Disciples church there. Richard Kinney spoke that day. I remember how unusual it seemed to me that he was able to unify in a single message readings which were at first glance diverse. My literary training and my religious training up to that point had given me a very strong preference for exposition of a single coherent unit of text.

    I remember in 1987 or so when Bruce Logue was preaching at Greenlawn in Lubbock, I learned that he valued the way that the lectionary helped him “balance” his preaching, not just choosing the same things over and over.

    That said, one eventually realizes that even the lectionary editors have, um, intentions.

    All the same, I appreciate the gathering of seasonal texts and will do another set this Christmas.

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Carisse. I agree we must be aware of the agendas even lectionary choices have. We do not choose texts without something guiding us. For example, preparing to teach Psalm 58 again, I noticed that the text is absent from this three year cycle which I think is unfortunate. Within three years, every Psalm should be covered. So, there are deficiencies in every methos.

      What I like about the lectionary is that is a shared text across traditions for that Sunday. What I don’t like about the lectionary is that it does not provide the opportunity to hear a text within the flow of its literary connections (e.g., preaching through Luke).

  13.   Jeff Cozzens Says:

    JJohn Mark,

    As you know, I am a Principal of a 2400 student high school in Memphis. I had several of my Catholic students report to school a little late because they went to Mass on “Ash Wednesday” before coming to school. These students had ash marks in the shape of a cross on their foreheads. I felt like it was a powerful witness of their faith and frankly was not the “norm” at a public school. I did some research on this practice and goes back to at least to 1091 and possibly as far back as about 650 A.D.. Ezekiel 9:4-6 admonishes the Children of Israel to place an ash mark on their forehead as a sign of repentance.

    Question: Is it appropriate for us as Christians from the C.C. tradition to participate this ancient practice?

    Jeff

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Jeff, I have always valued your ministry in the public schools. You are doing kingdom work, my friend.

      I think whether one practices Lent or not (in the specific ways suggested by historic Christian practices) falls under Romans 14. If some choose to consider a day “holy to the Lord,” then let them do so. How they sanctify that day will be their choices as well–whether fasting, communal assembly, prayer, or symbolic acts (like “Ash Wednesday”).

      John Mark

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