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Prepare, Celebrate, Receive, Do

I was thinking about the annual rhythms of the church year. We call that the "liturgical calendar." The year starts with Advent, which prepares us for Christmas. Epiphany is a day, not a season; the season after Epiphany is called "ordinary time." I really think they need a better name for those parts of the Christian year. "Ordinary" is intended to mean that the Sundays are ordered, as thought the other Sundays are not. Then, with Ash Wednesday, we start Lent, which is a season to prepare for Holy Week and Easter. Easter Sunday starts the season of Easter which culminates in Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost, like Epiphany, is not a season; the Sundays after Pentecost are another part of "ordinary time." Ordinary time goes through the summer and fall, and ends the year on Christ the King Sunday. You've heard all this before, I'm sure. I was thinking about all this because I wanted to tell you something really relevant and timely here at the turn of January and February. What I have to work with is "ordinary time." By itself, I was finding ordinary time to be less than inspiring, and that led me to think about it in context of the rhythm of the church year.

Think about it in terms of the colors of the church year. Purple is the color for the times of preparation: Advent and Lent. After those seasons, we receive something. At Christmas, we receive Christ into the world. At Easter, we receive the accomplishment of our salvation. After each season of preparation is a season of celebration. Christmas is a season: the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days after Christmas when we celebrate the gift of Christ's incarnation at Christmas. Easter is a season following the day our salvation was accomplished by Christ's resurrection. The color of these seasons is white.

Now this next part is a bit of a stretch: the end of each season of celebration is a time when we receive something. At Epiphany, we receive the knowledge of who God's anointed is: the infant king revealed by the magi. At the end of the Easter season we receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The liturgical color of Epiphany is still White, as it's technically still a day in the season of Christmas. Pentecost, though not a season, gets its own color: the color for Pentecost Sunday (and only Pentecost Sunday, though we also use it on officer installation days) is red.

After preparing and receiving and celebrating and receiving again, THEN we get to ordinary time. Let's try thinking of ordinary time as the time when we take action. We prepared for what? What did we receive? What did we celebrate? What was all that preparation, receiving, and celebrating leading up to?

We prepared to receive the incarnate Word into the world, then we received the Christ child, and we celebrated. Now that we have received this knowledge, that the Word became flesh, what are we to do? The call stories in the lectionary this year emphasize that we should follow him. How do we respond to the call of Christ on our lives? By imitating his life. That's this ordinary time at the turn of the months. What does Christ do? How should we follow his example?

We will prepare for the drama and trauma of Holy Week during Lent. We will prepare for the joyous Easter resurrection. Then we will receive the forgiveness of sins by Christ from the cross. Then we will receive the news of Christ's victory over sin and death on Easter morning. Then we will spend seven Sundays celebrating our Lord's resurrection, and on the eight Sunday we will receive the Holy Spirit. After that, we will act whether we want to or not. After that, the Holy Spirit will be in control and we will BE the body of Christ in the world. In that time we will read and study about what the church does in the world. That's the ordinary time that comes in the summer and lasts until the end of time, the end of the Church year when we receive Christ again at his second coming on Christ the King Sunday.

So there's a rhythm. I didn't list it all in my paragraphs above. For instance, at the end of this ordinary time and before Lent, there's Transfiguration Sunday. What do we receive on Transfiguration Sunday that prepares us for Lent? If I wrote it out, we'd have a rhythm something like:

  • prepare (Advent),

  • receive (Christmas Day),

  • celebrate (Christmas Season),

  • receive (Epiphany),

  • do (respond to Christ's call and follow him in ordinary time),

  • receive (the glory of God revealed in Christ at the Transfiguration),

  • prepare (Lent),

  • receive (salvation accomplished in Christ's death and resurrection),

  • celebrate (Christ's Easter victory over sin and death),

  • receive (the Holy Spirit at Pentecost),

  • do (be the Body of Christ in the world with Holy Spirit power),

  • receive (the final accomplishment of all things on Christ the King Sunday).

All the movements of the church year can be viewed as one of these: Prepare, Receive, Celebrate, Do.

That's what I've been thinking and what I'm sharing with you. What can we be doing this season of Ordinary time? How can we be following Jesus more faithfully?



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