As I write this, Mother’s Day is coming up. In the church where I am doing some interim preaching, someone noticed that my upcoming sermon was on the Ascension, and that we called it Ascension Sunday. She asked what we are doing about Mother’s Day. “Well, I’m sure it will be mentioned in prayer,” I responded. I think she was disappointed, if not dismayed.
Increasingly, I find that congregations are following a calendar different from the one handed down from long church tradition. This modern calendar highlights such events as Mother’s or Father’s Day; national holidays like Commonwealth Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day; or church events like Cadet or Gems Sunday or Mission Sunday.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an occasional Sunday dedicated to a particular cause or ministry, or with noticing how a particular Sunday coincides with a national holiday. But I sometimes think the calendar gets so crowded with these celebrations that the real heart and center of our faith is pushed aside. In effect, we sacrifice a purposely gospel-centered calendar for an agenda of people to be honored or causes to be maintained.
The traditional liturgical calendar isn’t just a succession of special days and seasons but a wonderful tool to keep the church focused on the Christ and his salvation. Each year the first half of the year focuses on the person and work of Christ. From Advent to Pentecost, we move from the birth of Christ, through his ministry (Epiphany), to the cross and the resurrection (Lent and Easter), and finally his ascension and the pouring out of the Spirit. And if we follow the Revised Common Lectionary (a widely used seasonal cycle of scripture readings), every three years offers a panorama of passages from all over the Bible that explore these events from different perspectives.
That leaves the second half of the year, sometimes called “Ordinary Time,” for all kinds of other themes from the Bible. I often use this time to put the lectionary aside to focus on an extended Old Testament narrative or preach through one of the epistles.
Paying more attention to the secular calendar than the Christian calendar has the advantage of being relevant to the calendars we live by day by day. But is that why we come to worship? I think that one of the most important elements of worship is to help us step aside from our daily calendars and invite us into “Standard Gospel Time.”
Worshiping according to the liturgical seasons remind us that we live in two worlds, the world of our everyday lives and the world of God’s kingdom. The colors, textures, smells, Scriptures, and hymns of the seasons of the Christian year become yearly reminders that keep us grounded in God’s kingdom calendar, from the Incarnation to the Second Coming