“Oh, Come, Let Us Worship Him”

The Church Year

The church calendar helps us remember and celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

By Doug Escue
Used by Christians for centuries, the church-year calendar is a powerful tool to help Christians remember the life and times of their resurrected Lord, and it has evolved to provide daily and seasonal signposts of hope throughout the secular year for those who live in a world with “change and decay in all around I see” (Lutheran Worship #490). It helps believers in Christ to live daily by faith.

A long and rich heritage

This historic calendar started with the early Christians. After the day o[ Pentecost, these brave and Spirit-filled people began to engage in a very specific way of life and worship. SL Luke writes, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Our Lutheran forefathers valued the church-year calendar, and its way of assisting Christians in their worship of the resurrected Lord. The strength of using this tool is found in its repetition. Each week, on the Lord’s Day, the Gospel is proclaimed in the Divine Service through Word and Sacrament. The calendar establishes a particular weekly theme for this Gospel proclamation, determined by the season in which the week is located.

Using the church-year calendar

In the church year, the 52 weeks are separated into two parts. The first half of the church year-the festival half-contains “The Time of Christmas” and “The Time of Easter.” The second half of the church year includes “The Time of the Church.” The festival half elaborates on the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the events surrounding His birth. It emphasizes His baptism, the beginning of His three-year preaching ministry and His earthly suffering, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. The non-festival half celebrates Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter, fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was revealed on Pentecost-the 50th day following Christ’s resurrection. This season emphasizes the action of that powerful Spirit working among Christ’s people. The church-year calendar also prescribes for each Sunday specific liturgical colors, Scripture readings, prayers, liturgical readings and hymns.

The Time of Christmas

Surrounding the birth of Jesus are the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Advent (from the Latin: “coming”) consists of a four-week period that precedes Christmas Day. Although the secular world is already celebrating the Christmas season, the church-year calendar calls on Christians to use Advent as a time to prepare to celebrate the coming of our Lord at His birth. Christmas and the 11 days that follow celebrate the “Word becoming flesh, making His dwelling among us” (John l:14).
Epiphany (from the Greek: “appearance” or “manifestation”) begins its season with the celebration of the presentation of the gifts by the eastern magi-the gentiles. The appearance of these gentiles, foretold in the Old Testament (ls. 60:lff), initiates a mission-outreach theme for the church of Bethlehem’s babe. The season of Epiphany can last up to eight weeks, depending on the date of Easter. The last Sunday after the Epiphany celebrates the transflguration of )esus (Matt. l7:1-9).

The Time of Easter

The festival half of the church year continues with “The Time of Easter.” It includes the seasons of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. This holy season begins with Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter. Lent’s focus of 40 days (not counting the six “little Easter” Sundays within this season) is on the theme of spiritual renewal, repentance and self-reflection. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. This sacred time calls every Christian to concentrate on the great suffering and sacrifice of their Lord. The Lenten season concludes with the final three days of Holy Week. The Triduum (Latin: “three days”) observe Christ’s betrayal (Maundy Thursday), His suffering and death (Good Friday), and the day before Easter, used by some as the Easter Vigil-a day to watch and wait for Easter Day. Easter Sunday proclaims to the world the great victory that “Christ Jesus .. . has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). The church calendar reserves six Sundays as a time to commemorate the great event of Easter. On the 40th day, the church celebrates Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

The Season of Pentecost

On the 50th day following Easter Sunday, God’s people remember the great day of Pentecost (from the Greek word for “fifty”), when the promised Holy Spirit was revealed to the 11 disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1ff). The day of Pentecost initiates the non-festival half of the Church year, which can last up to 28 Sundays concluding with the last Sunday in the church year. The church-year calendar also includes the minor festival days of saints’ days and events in the life of Christ and His church. What would the year be without a calendar? For each day, week, month and year on this earth, we can live with a sense of confidence and hope.
O, Come, Let Us Worship Him” is condensed from a 15-part series in The Lutheran Witness \Sept 1999-{d 2000). Copyright 200l by The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod- This work may be reproduced by a congregation for its own use.   Commercial reproduction or reproduction for sale, of any portion of this work or of the work as a whole without the permission of the copyright holder is prohibited OCN-OI