Wednesday, January 04, 2012

celebrating redemptive history

My ideas and inspiration for beginning to celebrate the liturgical calendar this year and onward all started with this post Sacred Times and Seasons linked by Brandy at Afterthoughts.

I read and read and read some more. (And as a small aside, all of the following authors are writing from a Protestant perspective.)

Halfway through the article, I came into these paragraphs:
Advent, the season we are celebrating now, reminds us that our forefathers waited in faith for the promised Messiah, even as we are now waiting for Christ’s second coming. Advent culminates in the season of Christmas, which celebrates the incarnation, that great event in which God became man. After Christmas comes the season of Epiphany, which recalls the coming of the Magi and the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles. During Lent the church remembers Christ’s sufferings, both in the wilderness and finally on the cross. Lent culminates in Easter when Christ rises from the dead, defeating death once and for all. Finally, Pentecost remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit, recalls the way that the new covenant fulfills the law and, with Epiphany, it celebrates the coming of the Gentiles into covenant relationship with Israel’s God.

These holidays, each of which is rich with Biblical symbolism, remain a tangible way for Christians to live through the story of redemption every year. Sadly, however, the rhythm of the church year is unfamiliar to many American Protestants, who think of Easter as a single day rather than as a season, who assume that Christmas ends rather than begins on December 25, who consider Lent to be ‘something that Catholics do’ and may not have even heard of Epiphany. As for Pentecost, the holiday often brings to mind little more than speaking in tongues.

And it was this sentence that made me come fully awake:
These holidays, each of which is rich with Biblical symbolism, remain a tangible way for Christians to live through the story of redemption every year.

That is how I want to spend my years on this earth, living through the story of redemption every year.

And then there was Part 2.

Because human beings are inescapably liturgical and religious, we invariably organize the year into rhythmic structures that reflect our priorities. As I pointed out in my blog post Church Calendar if our priorities are not the great feasts of the church, then by default our year will probably end up being structured around secular holidays that tell the story of political redemption or else holidays that pay homage to the god of hedonism, such as vacation time. The issue is not that we have civic landmarks or vacation time: the problem arises when these become the fundamental structuring devices by which we order time.

By getting rid of the church year and all Christian holidays, the Puritans and their descendants left a vacuum that would ultimately has been filled by the non-religious ordering of time. Such non-religious ordering has helped to reinforce the idea that there exists a secular world that functions separately from spiritual categories. By rejecting the church year as one legitimate way to tell the story of redemption, the Puritans and their descendants inadvertently underscored the sense of religion being disembodied, detached from the space-time continuum. This would ultimately reinforce a duality in North American culture that emerged under the Puritan’s canopy, including a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Moreover, the vacuum created by the evacuation of the church year would eventually be filled with the type of civil religion described by Amy Sullivan. This can be felt strongest in those American holidays that celebrate civic regeneration, integrating Americans around the liturgies of their common political life.

The author goes on to say:
The secular imagination tends to view history on an axis of what Walter Benjamin called “empty and homogeneous time”, a linear and uniform sequence of cause and effect, measurable by the clock and calendar. By contrast, the story that the church has historically told through its six seasons, like the story the Hebrews told through the Old Testament feasts, understands time in the present through its proximity with events that are typologically significant within the Divine Plan. Such proximity operated on what we might call a different axis to that of ‘ordinary time’ (though to call it ‘ordinary’ is already to reveal our modern presuppositions), one closer to eternity.

He concludes with this historically optimistic view of the world:

It is a way to proclaim that the purely secular ordering of events is being swallowed up by the church’s higher understanding of time, even as the kingdoms of the earth are being swallowed up by the kingdom of the Christ-child (Revelation 11:15).

And then this from another writer who says:
I love how the church calendar gives us seasons of celebration and repentance, seasons of special days and regular days. It is cyclical just as the seasons are and gives a balance to our lives. If we follow the calendar we walk through the life of Jesus and the church on a yearly basis... Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, and so on and so on.

My researching also found this helpful article entitled Calendar Memories where the writer explains more about Ordinary Time.

I like comparing the Church Calendar to a wheel, with Christ as the hub. Christmas is the first of several celebrations of the Christian life that are in the circle of the Church Year. In many churches, once Epiphany is passed, the church calendar moves into a segment of days entitled Ordinary Time for the rest of January and February. In almost all churches that celebrate the church year, the period after the Easter season is called Ordinary Time. The word ordinary here refers to ordinal, meaning number, rather than “mudane or common place.” This is because the Sundays and weeks in this time period are numbered. Even though the phrase Ordinary Time has this meaning, I have often reflected on the fact that this is the time when we focus on God working in our lives in wonderful ways in the ordinary days between the great Christian celebrations of the year: Easter and Christmas. Thus in a year, there is the increase of elation associated with the special days, and the calmness of “ordinary” days.

And finally this in my reading of Angels in the Architecture, Douglas Jones writes in Chapter 7, Worshiping With Body: Feasting on Food and Marriage
We so often lead lives forgetful of the fact that our God is very shocking. Admist all our fragile piety and devouring busyness, we have a Lord who steps in and commands us such things as,
Deuteronomy 14:22-26:
22. Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.
23. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
24. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away)
25. then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose.
26. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
(note: I have included more verses for context. He just quoted the bolded verse.)
Such unthriftiness. Such waste. Such gluttony. Such winebibbing. Such is a command of our holy God.
For some reason foreign to our modern ears, God tells us that celebration is central to pleasing Him; it is central to leading a good life. Modern American life has no time for serious celebrations as did life in centuries past. We've got work to do; projects and deadlines press us. And yet for all our industrial-strength pragmatism, few if any truly important things get accomplished. We have forgotten that celebration isn't just an option; it's a call to full Christian living.
Celebration is worshiping God with our bodies, withe the material creation He has set up around us. Celebrating--whether in feasts, ceremonies, holidays, formal worship, or lovemaking--are all part of obeying God's command to :love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength"(Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30). We are to show our love for God not just with one portion of our being(the spiritual aspect); we are to love God with our whole body, heart and strength and legs and lips.
Complaint is the flag of ingratitude, and it waves above the center of unbelieving hearts--"when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (Romans 1:21). Yet by grace, God's redemption and creation ought to keep us in a perpetual state of thanks which bursts out in celebration at every opportunity.

When we take time to remember and celebrate redemptive history, we are in a sense slipping into Eternity, God's time, a higher time, one where we will be remembering these acts forever.


  1. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I checked to see what more you might have added online today and was NOT disappointed.
    I found nourishment for my soul. =)

  2. Wow Heather -- you've given me (us) a lot to think about, and plenty of links/resources to help us consider. Thanks for putting together this post, and Amen to living the redemtive story!


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