Truth Matters Newsletters – January 2008 Vol. 13 Issue 1 – The Rhythm of the Saints- Celebrating Jesus Through the Church Year – by Rev. Robert S. Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
The Rhythm of the Saints
Celebrating Jesus Through the Church Year
By Rev. Robert S. Liichow
Sadly, one thing most “evangelical” and charismatic congregations have lost is the spiritual rhythm of the Church Year. Oh sure most congregations sill celebrate Advent, Christmas and Easter, but that is about the extent of it.
Our relationship to Christ and His Body becomes far more meaningful when we live and worship with a conscious awareness of exactly where we are at in the Church “Year.” I’ve come to have a deep respect for the flow of our services within confessional Lutheranism. Every aspect of the worship service is defined by where the Church is at in respect to the season of the Church Year. I’ve come to have a deep respect for the flow of our services within confessional Lutheranism. Every aspect of the worship service is defined by where the Church is at in respect to the season of the Church Year. By every aspect I mean the colors used on the altar and that are worn by the pastor (each color corresponds to a specific time in the Christian calendar), the theological content of the hymns that are sung during each season is specific to that time, even the portions of Scripture from the Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels concern themselves with the time of year along with most of the sermons delivered….all of these ingredients working together in harmony point to Jesus Christ! Since the Reformation the basics of the Church Year follow this pattern:
Advent: Advent marks the beginning of the church year and is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming; which is what the word “advent” means: “coming”. We prepare our hearts and homes not only for the Lord’s coming at Christmas (His Incarnation) but also for His Second Coming, when He will come again in Glory. We make an evergreen wreath which symbolizes God’s eternity and our joyous hope of eternal life through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We place four candles around the wreath, decorate it and light one candle for each Sunday in Advent until four candles are lit, announcing brightly: “The Lord comes!” The first candle symbolizes Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the second, represents John the Baptizer who prepared the way for the Messiah’s coming by preaching repentance, the third candle is pink to depict a less penitent mood and represents John’s testimony to Christ, and the fourth candle represents the angel Gabriel foretelling Jesus’ birth. The color for Advent is purple, reminding us to reflect on our own sin and to turn back to God in repentance, seeking forgiveness, thus preparing our hearts for the Lord. Often a large, white candle (Christ Candle) is placed in the center of the wreath and is lit at Christmas.
Christmas: Following Advent we come to the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is next to Easter and Pentecost the highest festival in the church year. The Lord has come! Immanuel – God with us. We turn to God in thanksgiving that almighty God in thanksgiving, that almighty God loved us so much, that He sacrificed his own Son, Jesus Christ, to become man, live among us, take all our sin and guilt onto himself and pay the ultimate price for our sin: His death on the cross so that we need not be damned but have eternal life through faith in Him! What joy! Christmas celebrates Jesus Christ, eternal God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, becoming a human baby, thus starting His divine work of salvation.
Epiphany: The season of Epiphany starts on the festival of Epiphany on January 6th and extends over a period of between two and six weeks, depending on Easter being early that year or late. “Arise, shine for Thy light is come.” (Is. 60:1) This is the theme for Epiphany: Christ is the glorious, saving light of the world, illuminating the lives of us sinners caught in the darkness of sin. We reflect mainly on the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, on Christ’s baptism and on the Transfiguration of Christ. Epiphany means “manifestation” and it refers to when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordon and Christ was revealed to all by the voice of His Father!
Lent: Lent is the period of about 6 weeks before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and ending with the climactic “holy week”, the week before Easter in which Maundy Thursday (where our Lord institutes the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the day of our Lord’s death on the cross) are celebrated.
During the season of Lent the color violet or purple represent somberness and solemnity, penitence, and prayer. That is due to the somber mood created by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. We contemplate His suffering and death on the cross He endured on account of our sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ wore a violet cloak just before His death. His mockers, knowing violet to be a highly valued color worn by kings, tauntingly clothed him in a King’s purple cloak and jeeringly called Him “The King of the Jews”. Violet is the color of inward reflection or repentance. Lent encourages one to be conscious of one’s sin and short comings and turn back to Christ to receive forgiveness and to be made at peace with God again.
Easter: Easter is, in contrast to the somber mood of Lent, a joyous festival. We celebrate the triumphant Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. All over the world we hear the joyous exclamation on Easter morning: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” We celebrate with such joy because Christ’s resurrection means that we also will be raised from the dead and ascend into heaven. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:17 ff. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, so in Christ all will be made alive.” White is the color of Easter. What color, other than white, represents purity, innocence, absolute perfection, joy in its purest form and triumph over darkness as well as white does? None; only white does. White is the color of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; He is snow-white, without blemish, perfect. This perfect Lamb forgives us our sins, be they as dark and damning as they may, and we may have the comfort in His words: “Your sins are forgiven you” and know that He has made them as white as snow.
Ascension: After His resurrection at Easter, our Lord Jesus Christ stayed with His disciples for another 40 days. Then, in their presence, He ascended bodily into the glory of His Father in heaven. Luke reports in his Gospel: We are comforted by Christ that He went up into heaven to prepare a place for us there. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3). The post-Easter season, including Ascension, is therefore one of joy and spiritual excitement. Throughout thee days, sermons, readings, prayers and hymns reflect the mood of thanks and praise. The liturgical color for Ascension Day is white because it is a festival celebrating Jesus Christ.
Pentecost: Only 10 days after the Ascension of our Lord, 50 days after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost, the climax of the whole Paschal season. On this day, we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Prayers and hymns at Pentecost are an invitation for the Holy Spirit to come to us and enter our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel and keeps us in faith. We are filled with joy, peace and hope. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we daily ask Him to come because we constantly push Him out through our sinfulness. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10). The liturgical color at Pentecost is red, symbolizing the flames that came to rest on the disciples’ heads. The mood is that of joy, thanks and praise, which carries over from Ascension.
Trinity Sunday: Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost, is a festival celebrating the Holy Trinity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being. At the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Trinity is most clearly noted: Christ standing in the river, God the Father’s voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit descending on Christ in the form of a dove. There are a number of popular symbols which represent the Holy Trinity: the triangle, three interlocking circles, a triangle surrounded by a circle, the shamrock and others, each depicting the three persons of the Trinity equally. The liturgical color for Trinity Sunday is white, representing the purity of the Holy Trinity.
Season After Pentecost: The second half of the church year begins with Pentecost and ends on the Sunday before Advent. Whereas the church year begins with Advent and includes all the major church festivals like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, celebrating what Jesus Christ has done for us and our salvation, the second half focuses on Christ’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s work among us. The liturgical color, therefore, is green. Green represents growth of the church and growth in faith. The overall focus in the “green period” is on the work of the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers and enlightens” people. He brings them to faith, nurtures and strengthens their faith through Word and Sacrament. The “green season” concentrates on our response to what God has done for us. We therefore concentrate on missions, reaching out to the un-churched and announcing God’s Grace to the people that they may also be “called and gathered” by the Holy Spirit and receive the forgiveness of sins.
Reformation Day: Ok, I admit this celebration is not part of the ancient orthodox “Church Year” per se, yet we celebrate it because of what God restored through His servant Martin Luther. On Reformation Day, we commemorate the reformation of the church which began on All Saints Eve, October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany, when Dr. Luther an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the university there, posted 95 points of discussion (theses) on the Castle Church’s door. What prompted Dr. Luther, was mainly the “letters of indulgence” which the Roman Catholic Church at the time was selling to the people, promising them forgiveness of their sins. It became so bad, that people were “buying forgiveness” for sins they had not yet committed! Dr. Luther deemed this to be an outrage as Holy Scripture clearly teaches that God alone forgives, and only a repentant sinner receives forgiveness and salvation from God by grace alone.
All Saints Day: On All Saints Day, we give thanks to God for the examples of faith of all those who have gone before us. This is not a celebration about certain “anointed” individuals such as is seen in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, it is a celebration of all those who love and serve Jesus from a heart made pure by His blood.
Copyright © Robert S. Liichow