A Case for the Church Year

A Case for the Church Year December 14, 2016

By Amanda Standiford

Each day, we awaken to a new and seemingly louder uproar in the world. Each night, we go to sleep with minds and hearts spinning echoes of the news we’ve read and heard, the tragedies we’ve mourned, the things that feel lost. It is easy to panic and tempting to despair.

Amanda Standiford
Amanda Standiford

And yet we are called to neither. Rather, we are called to wade through the muck and the murk, to be hope-bringers, peacemakers, joy-givers, love-pourers, and light-bearers to our world. It is a high calling and at times a difficult one, but we are not alone.

I am increasingly grateful for the gift of the church year to remind us of this. It grounds us. It offers perspective. It binds us together. It reminds us who we are and what we are, and it keeps us moving.

I grew up vaguely aware of Advent. My Catholic friends gave up things for Lent. That was extent of my familiarity with the church year. I am a descendant of the descendants of the generation that threw out much of what tied us, the Church, to antiquity, to the church throughout the ages, and in the quest for modernity and relevance, a whole tub of full of babies went out with the bathwater. I say this not to cast blame but to set my own context and define my own perspective.

And so here, in my 21st century adulthood, working in the church and trying to help it cast off, for lack of a better term, 1950 — with its personal salvation, its oddly patriotic, institutional church, and its culture wars, all fodder for other writing, perhaps — I find myself eager to reclaim that which was tried and true long before the 20th century and the strange but important phase of humanity that was modernity.

For me, the church year is among the most helpful of those things. It is both anchoring and freeing. It is deeply rooted in the life of Christ, and I love that. It begins with anticipating and then celebrating his birth. And then there are just a few short weeks to walk in his sandals and
remember his life before we begin preparing for his death. And then there’s the death, and more importantly, the resurrection — the gift of Christ with us in a new way, reveled in for seven whole and full weeks each year leading up to the birth of the Church at Pentecost.

And then, delightfully and oh-so-appropriately, there are nearly six months and sometimes more left to lean into the life of the church, into the life of Christ embodied by the Church alive and active in the world. Finally, the church year ends on a lovely and hopeful note — Christ the King Sunday, when we pause to remind ourselves that this is where we’re headed.

The church year is liberating in this way. It offers perspective to remind us that we matter, that the church in our day and age matters. Christ’s life did not end with the ascension or with Pentecost; rather he lives and breathes through us, even today.

There is no need to be the Church of antiquity or the Church of the reformation or even the Church of the modern era. Rather, we are invited to be who we are, at this moment in history, and to have that be perfectly valid. Perhaps we’re the body of Christ in mid-September or on July 21st. It’s not for us to know, but it is for us to be.

And it binds us together.

When we follow a different calendar from the world — not one that is discordantly, abrasively different but one that complements and reinterprets — we are gently bound to one another. We are drawn together by the lighting of the Advent candles, the marking of the ashes on our hands and foreheads, the hallelujahs, and the changing colors in our sanctuaries.

We live our lives by Christ’s time because it is a small act of kingdom come, of making the reign of Christ more real in our world. And we need the rituals — we crave them. Our souls are not cut out for willy-nilly church but rather for the predictability of the liturgical year. We need to be reminded that we were a people walking in darkness but that we’ve seen a great light.

We need to be told year after year that though we walk in the light, shadows creep up in and around us. We need to be assured that even in the valley of the shadow of death, the love and the promise of Christ compels us.

There is a lot to be outraged about in our world. It’s a shadowy time. And there is a lot that we should, as the body of Christ, be outraged about.

But these are not the first shadows, nor will they likely be the last. The liturgical year speaks this truth to us, over and over again. There is a time for lament. There is a time for mourning and weeping. There is a time for the work of reconciliation and the many tasks of loving well. And there is a time to rejoice, to dance in the light of our Creator and Sustainer.

There is a season for everything and we are called, not to panic or despair, but to undertake each task in its own time.

Amanda Standiford serves as Minister to Children and Young Families at Lexington Avenue Baptist Church. She and her husband, Adam, and their dog, Gavin, live in Danville, Kentucky. Amanda is a graduate of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. 

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