Getting to Know the Liturgical Calendar
By Rev. Jacob Breeze
Day 1 of 8: Introduction to the Liturgical Seasons
There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.
-Ecclesiastes 3:1 (CEB)
We all keep multiple calendars. And each calendar we keep forms us to see and live in the world in a particular way. Academic calendars cause us to see the world in semesters and breaks. Athletic calendars cause us to see the world in Pre-Seasons, Regular Seasons, Post-Seasons, and Off-Seasons. Fiscal calendars cause us to see the world in budget quarters and tax seasons.
There is another calendar called the Liturgical Calendar. If you keep it, then it, too, will cause you to see the world in a new way with a new lens. This ancient calendar will cause you to see the world with new seasons with funny names that are meant for one purpose: to pattern our lives after Jesus of Nazareth.
Have you ever wondered what curricula the Church used before they created—or better, curated—the Bible? The Liturgical Seasons were the primary curricula used to help people more fully, actively, and consciously participate in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Each season tells us something unique about the God who put on flesh.
The Liturgical Seasons are like an Instructor.
The Church keeps time by specific Liturgical Seasons which are meant to tutor us into life with the Living God.
Think about each Liturgical Season as an instructor. The primary goal is to further tutor us into the life of the living God, and each instructor has their own set of questions, quandaries, and lessons. Within that context, the instructor assigns certain Bible readings to us, and instead of calling them “assigned reading in the syllabus,” the schedule of Scriptures is called a “Lectionary.”
Perhaps you grew up in a context where it was implicitly and explicitly assumed that the Bible sets the talking points and the agenda for God’s people. But did they ever read stories from the first couple chapters of the Gospel According to Luke around the end of December, or resurrection stories around the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox? (You can thank the Council of Nicea for that formula that determines when Easter is celebrated each year.)
“Christmas” is not in the Bible.
“Easter” is not in the Bible.
Christmas and Easter are Liturgical Seasons. And, yes, during those seasons we read particular stories from the Bible…but, that’s an important distinction. The Liturgical Seasons occasion certain Bible readings; therefore, we ought to pay close attention to those seasons.
So even if your faith community would never smudge ashes on your forehead to kick off Lent, if they celebrated Christmas and Easter, they weren’t doing so because the Bible told them to do so. They were operating with a teacher older than the Christian Bible: the Christian Calendar.
The Liturgical Seasons are also kinda like Netflix.
Think of it like this. You and your person settle in for the night with a bottle of wine and frozen pizza and decide to start a new eight season series on Netflix. Theoretically, there’s nothing stopping you from starting with season two or season six. Let’s say you watch episode one of season two and episode one of season six, then call it a night. You’ve got just enough exposure to participate in a conversation about the show with others. You could name some of the major characters, speak briefly about some major events, but, that’s about it.
What you don’t have is the rich experience of someone who has binged the entire series. They know characters you don’t. They caught things in the two episodes that, though you watched them, you didn’t understand because you lacked the context. You missed the allusions. You missed the callbacks and foreshadowings. You missed the return of characters you thought were lost. Plus, because they’ve seen all of the seasons, they know characters and plot lines that you don’t.
Call to Action
I want to invite you to binge-watch the Liturgical Calendar. I promise it’ll make season two (Christmas) and season six (Easter) better by helping you be more conversant with the rest of the seasons.
These devotions will introduce you to the basic logic of each Season. You can learn the major characters, sit with the primary questions, and begin to get a sense of the overall flow of the ancient Calendar that teaches us Jesus of Nazareth’s way of life.
Season 1: Advent
Season 2: Christmas
Season 3: Epiphany
Season 4: Lent
Season 5: Easter
Season 6: Pentecost
Season 7: Ordinary Time (or Kingdomtide)