Introduction to the Christian Church Year

The life of the Church is centered around the Church’s worship. As Christians gather for worship, they do so with a strong sense of time and history. Humans have always been time conscious. Light and darkness regulate our days. Daily life is ordered by the activities of work and rest. Seasons change in a regular way from times of growth to times of death. God established this time consciousness. Genesis 1 shows the centrality of time, which God created when He instituted “evening and . . . morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5). God set the time markers in the heavens on the fourth day “to separate the day from the night. And [to] let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). God rested on the seventh day as a model for us (Exodus 20:8–11).

2009-church-yearChristians retain this sense of time. Our seven-day week continues to recall God’s incomparable creation of the world. Early Christians recalled the historic time-related events that were important to their faith, especially events in the life of Jesus. They realized that God entered our world “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4). Mark tells us that Jesus’ first sermon was about time: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). In his Gospel, Luke also reminds us of the timeliness of Christ’s arrival: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea” (Luke 1:5); “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). The evangelist John also reports specific historical settings for our Lord’s ministry (John 10:22–23). A Sunday close to Passover is now celebrated as the feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Luke 24:1). The Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost is remembered now as the birthday of the Christian Church (Acts 2:1).

Christians also have added their own unique celebrations and adapted others to trinitarian understandings. Easter is the principle feast day of the Church. It is the Son’s Day of Days as the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord; it is also an event by which Christians identify themselves as distinctly new creations. The Nativity of Our Lord, celebrated on December 25, is the second great Christian feast and is most clearly the Father’s Day. On this day, God gives His most precious gift of life to the world in the person of His Son, Jesus. Finally, Pentecost is celebrated with a specific focus on the Holy Spirit’s presence, power, and purpose. Thus Pentecost is the Spirit’s Day. Celebrations of the Epiphany and the Transfiguration of Our Lord also recall Jesus’ ministry in power and glory. Holy Trinity Sunday reminds us of the great controversies and struggles in the first three centuries of Christianity as the Church sought to clarify and articulate the biblical revelation of God’s unity in three distinct persons. As time passed, notable Church leaders were remembered on their death day, underscoring the fact that death is actually an entrance or birth into the new life with Christ in heaven.

The Christian calendar is retained in Christian Church bodies throughout the world for several reasons. First, a regular calendar is helpful to keep the remembrances before us. Just as God commanded the Jewish people to recall how He had delivered them in the past (e.g., the Passover, Exodus 12:14; Leviticus 23:4–8), so, too, early Christians recalled the historic time-related events that were important to their faith, as Jesus had encouraged His disciples to do (Luke 22:19). Second, following their Jewish predecessors, Christians consider the regularity of the holidays as teaching moments, with the celebration of the events of Christ’s life used to tell and retell the Good News. Finally, Christians recognize that this life is not an end in itself. Christ’s victory over death means that daily life focuses beyond the mundane to eternity. A calendar of Christian events unites present-day believers with those of the past as well as the future.

You can use the category “Christian Church Year” to locate introductions and posts for various topics having to do with the season and discussion of the Church Year.

The Church Year calendar shown above can be ordered from Concordia Publishing House.

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