Worship at Island View is always headed somewhere. We look back and remember the great acts and mercy of God in the biblical story, and we anticipate the fullness of love and grace in God’s coming kingdom. To guide us in this work of remembrance and anticipation, we observe the historic seasons of Christian worship.
The new year in worship begins in late November, not January. Advent is the season which focuses on the coming of Jesus Christ (advent means coming). The first coming is Christmas, which we begin to recall during this season. But we also believe in a second coming of Jesus, though no one knows when this will be. During Advent, we strive to do the spiritual work necessary to be prepared for Jesus’ unexpected coming. Churches are decorated in purple or blue during this season, reflecting Jesus royalty, and also denoting this as a season of preparation.
You know what Christmas is all about, don’t you? Still, it can be hard work keeping Christmas as Christmas. Though we don’t expect the world to celebrate what we celebrate, our worship together exalts God and gives thanks for the miracle of incarnation–that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us. This calls us to “do Christmas” in different ways than the world. A big part of our celebration involves giving generously to missions around the world.
Okay, you may not know what Epiphany is about. We’ve largely forgotten about this one. The word epiphany means “showing forth” or “shining forth.” So the day and season of Epiphany celebrates how Jesus is not only born, but shown to the world! We recall how wise men from distant lands came to see and worship him. This helps us remember that Jesus did not just come for us–he is the Light of the entire world! Oh, and that song about the 12 days of Christmas? Epiphany is day number 12.
The word “ordinary” here doesn’t mean hum-drum, regular time, but “counted” time. This is the stretch between the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle (the Cycle of Light) and the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle (the Cycle of Life). It’s called ordinary because we count the weeks. During this time, the focus is on growing–thus the color is green.
Just as Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, Lent is the season of preparation for Easter. Following the model of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, we yield 40 days to God as a sort of tithe of our time. During this time, we may give up certain things that preoccupy us or hold us back from fully loving God and one another. With the time and energy freed by giving up, we strive to do more constructive things–spending more time in prayer, reading Scripture, and growing spiritually.
Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday, in which we remember the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples–that they should love one another. On Maundy Thursday, we gather together for a meal together and a service commemorating the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing of his followers’ feet. Good Friday is the day on which Jesus died. It sounds terrible, and was terrible, except that in this dark day we glimpse the light of a God who loves us so much that God was crucified, died, and was buried. Holy Saturday is also dark, but the darkness is necessary to fully celebrate Easter Sunday–the greatest day in the calendar.
Easter Sunday is a lot of people’s favorite day to go to church, and we understand why. It is joyous and energetic, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Easter is more than one day long. The season of Eastertide stretches from Easter all the way to Pentecost. During these 50 days, we keep things jubilant, believing that something as big as Jesus raised from the dead deserves more than 24 hours attention. At the end of this season, we also commemorate the Ascension of Jesus, who returned to the presence of God the Father.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church. Before Pentecost, there were only confused followers of Jesus. But as the Holy Spirit came and moved those early followers, the church was born. Pentecost reminds us that there is nothing worth doing that the Spirit doesn’t gift and empower us to do. Pentecost also celebrates the global, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church that God is bringing about still!
Again, we count the stretch between Pentecost and the new year, which begins with Advent.
If you’d like to learn more about the Christian year, there is a helpful and brief guide posted online by Pastor Mark D. Roberts.