It is important that we embrace the significance of each season of the Christian year as we participate together in telling the story of Christ.
“Are you sure it’s a Christian church?”
It was strange hearing my exact thought come out of someone else’s mouth, but this man said the same thing I was thinking.
It was the early evening of Easter Sunday, and I found myself in the produce section of our neighborhood grocery store. I had just overheard two people greet each other with “Happy Easter” and talk about their experiences at their respective churches that morning.
The man told of an elaborate performance from the band and choir and the stirring message that his pastor gave. When he asked his friend if her church did anything special, she replied, “No, my church doesn’t celebrate Easter or Christmas or anything like that. Only people’s birthdays.” It was here that the man and I jumped on the same train of thought. As soon as he asked whether her church was Christian, she replied, “Oh yes, we just think that those holidays are too commercialized and don’t mean anything anymore.” The man kept engaging with her and continued to specifically say “Christian church” over and over again. I could tell that he was trying to reconcile her earlier statement with what he knew about Christianity.
Their conversation didn’t last long, but I was impacted by their dialogue. It appeared that the stranger and I agreed that a church experience apart from the holy days in which the major events of Christ’s life are celebrated and acknowledged is incompatible with our understanding of faith. As I let this experience sink in, I concluded that our lack of acceptance of this woman’s church experience was due to the fact that her church appeared not to be participating in the same story as we were.
The Power of Telling the Story
Stories have a powerful effect on us. We are drawn to stories because they engage us and get us thinking about the world in different ways. A common story brings people together. Look at how cities come together to celebrate when their local sports team wins a championship. You often see thousands of people come together to celebrate the shared experience of victory.
The common story we share as Christians is the life and work of Jesus Christ.
Acknowledging and celebrating the days and seasons marked in the Christian calendar is a way that global Christians are united across denominational lines. No matter what your denomination, celebrating key portions of the Christian calendar unites us with the universal Church. This is part of the reason that a common date for Christmas was established and why the early Church theologians sought a common and standard practice for setting the date of Easter each year. It is also why, when we hear someone say that their church does not celebrate any holy days or seasons, it does not compute with our understanding of the Church or Christian faith.
The seasons of the Church calendar have rhythms and patterns that can be powerful and transformative in our spiritual walks. The forty days that Christ spent in the desert resisting the tempter and denying Himself are echoed in our participation in the season of Lent leading up to Easter. It is at the end of Lent when we are reminded of the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made in order that we might have new life in Him. More importantly, we are reminded of why we have hope in Christ: His resurrection. The season of Advent teaches us to expectantly wait for the return of our Savior while remembering and acknowledging the past and present work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Church calendar might be the most under-recognized form of discipleship that we have.
The constant reminders and teachings about Christ’s redeeming and restoring work give context for the work of the Spirit in the life of every person and in the communal life of every church.
From Commercialization to Celebration
As the stranger in the store mentioned, our holy days have indeed been commercialized. Often it seems that only a few remember what these days are really for. However, we must not let that stop us from participating in them fully and reclaiming them as depictions of the significant events in the story of Christ that draw us together. In fact, reclaiming their meaning is vitally important, because it reminds us that we are set apart from the world and are bound to a different Kingdom. We tell a different story.
We are given glimpses of the “already but not yet” Kingdom of God through the Church calendar. It is my hope that more Christians will remember the story of Christ that molds us and transforms us as we participate together in the Church year. The story it tells points us to something much bigger and better than we realize.
Thomas Rebovich is a recent Nazarene Theological Seminary graduate and an employee of the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas, USA.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2018