ADVENT engages us in preparing for Christ’s coming. The word “advent” literally means “coming.” Just as Easter is preceded by a time of self-examination and reflection, so also Christmas is preceded by a similar period. The season dates from the sixth century and was widely practiced by the beginning of the eighth century.
In Advent we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, but it is much more than getting ready for Christmas. More important, Advent engages us in anticipating Christ’s coming of God’s Kingdom. It points us to the future, to reflect on the end of time. With the ancient prophets we dream of a new order of life free from want, misery, war and hate. We long for an age of peace, of love and justice. Advent is therefore not so much a season of memory as it is a season of hope.
hope rests only with God, who in the beginning created, but who is creating
still, in the One who not only started history, but who will also be at its
end. Immanuel, God-with-us, born in
PURPLE, the royal color of the coming King, is the traditional color of Advent. However BLUE is increasingly used, since it expresses hope, the dominant theme of the season.
The nativity of Jesus Christ, CHRISTMAS, is the celebration of the incarnation, Word made flesh, Eternity breaking into time. In Jesus, God came to us in human form, identifying with sinful humanity.
actual date of Jesus’ birth is unknown.
The choice of December 25th as the time to celebrate the
incarnation dates from
need to be reminded that Christmas is not a single day, but a season. Beginning December 25th, it
continues for twelve days as a time of joyous celebration. The traditional color is WHITE or GOLD,
colors associated with joy and light.
The feast of EPIPHANY January
6th, originating in the Eastern Church, early centered upon three
mysteries: (1) the incarnation, God’s
coming to us in Christ, (2) the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and (3)
Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Together these portray the way God manifested
to the world in Christ. (Epiphany means
manifestation or showing forth.) With
the acceptance of December 25th as the feast of the incarnation,
Epiphany in Eastern Christianity now focuses primarily upon the baptism of
Jesus. In those portions of the East where December 25th has never
been accepted, it still retains its
centering upon the incarnation as well.
The BAPTISM OF THE LORD is closely related to Epiphany and should be considered in relation to the feast. Jesus’ ministry to bring in God’s rule was inaugurated in his baptism. Coming out of the water, the Spirit rested on Jesus, and a sign of God’s approval was heard. On his day we celebrate not only Jesus’ baptism but our own as well, for our baptism is rooted in Christ. Baptism joins us to Christ and his church, and with all of the baptized we are called to share Jesus’ ministry. In the waters of baptism we are buried with Christ, cleansed of our sins, and raised to share in his resurrection. The Spirit is given us and we are declared the children of God. WHITE is the traditional color, for it is a festival of the Lord.
The Sunday immediately before Lent is an appropriate time to celebrate the TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD, because this event marked a transition in Jesus’ ministry in which he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), where he would die. In his Transfiguration we are assured that Jesus is the hope of the ages. He is the One who fulfilled the Law given through Moses, the One dreamed of by prophets, of whom Elijah is the greatest in celebrating this event. We rejoice in the divine majesty of Christ, whose glory shone even when confronted with the cross. It is given us for our journey through Lent toward the agony of the cross and the victory of the empty tomb. We celebrate this mystery in order that our faith may be renewed. We are transformed into the new being in Christ as we join Christ in his death and resurrection in Lent and Easter.
the ancient times, the feast of the Transfiguration has been important in
Eastern Orthodox traditions. In 1457, it
was adopted into the
WHITE is the color for the Transfiguration for it is a festival of the Lord.
In the early centuries of Christian history, LENT provided the final, intensive period for the instruction of new converts for their baptism at Easter. The annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ was recognized as the most appropriate time for baptism, for in the baptismal waters one enters into death with Christ and is raised with Christ in his resurrection. The baptized life is to die daily to sin and the old life, and to be raised to live a new life sharing in the new creation.
Lent later came also to include the reconciliation of those who had lapsed from the faith. Easter was the time for them to reaffirm the covenant previously established in their baptism. Lent’s scope was further enlarged when it became a time for all the baptized to prepare for celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lent is therefore best understood as a time to reflect on the meaning of being joined to Christ in baptism. Lent leads us back to the waters of the font into all that it means to be Christian. It is a time of repentance, of reaffirming the faith, of prayer and discipline, of rebirth and renewal, of probing the questions of faith and life, of overflowing in mission to do God’s will in the world. The dominant spirit of Lent therefore should not be to give up something as it is to take up anew all that it means to belong to Christ.
ASH WEDNESDAY marks the beginning of Lent. The day receives its name from the ancient practice of marking the forehead with ashes as a sign of repentance, of human mortality, and of the need to totally depend upon God for life.
PURPLE is the traditional color for Lent, used to denote penitence and humility. However, somber hues of earth colors in fabrics of rough, coarse textures might convey the mood of Lent more effectively. BLACK or GREY might be used on ASH WEDNESDAY.
PALM SUNDAY (also known as
Passion Sunday) begins a sharper focus upon the death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, the central event of the Christian faith. A prelude to the passion is the brief
outburst of joy in the triumphal entry into
HOLY WEEK dates from the late fourth century. It should not be seen as a chain of separate events, but as a concentration upon the passion as a whole. We should not see Holy Week merely as an act of remembering, but as the occasion to appropriate into our lives all that Christ’s death and resurrection means, and commit ourselves anew to Christ’s service.
On MAUNDY THURSDAY the drama of
the mystery of redemption begins to intensify.
We recall that in humility Jesus kneeled before confused disciples and
washed their feet. We are also reminded
that on the same evening Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. The name “maundy” is derived from the Latin
word mandatum, meaning “a
command.” It refers to John 13:34, “A
new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” These words stand in
sharp contrast to the betrayal of Jesus that followed later that same night.
On GOOD FRIDAY we are confronted by the event of
Jesus’ death. We are moved to adoration
of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Good Friday provides a time for reflection on
the significance of Christ’s sacrifice of himself. But the austerity of Good Friday and HOLY
SATURDAY are the somber prelude to the exuberant joy of Christ’s
resurrection. Christ died, and was
raised from death that through Him all might have life. Only the reality of resurrection can
transform that Friday into good Friday.
EASTER is the Christian festival having the oldest roots. From earliest times, each Sunday has been a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, with clear references, dating from early in the third century, to an annual celebration of the resurrection-the Sunday of all Sundays. This festival is the center of the liturgical year, for it celebrates the event that is at the very core of our faith.
In early Christian centuries, the death-resurrection of Jesus was celebrated in a vigil held throughout the night. This PASCHAL VIGIL was the crowning festival of the Christian year. Motifs of light and darkness, water and fire were intertwined with readings from Scripture that recalled the events of salvation history, climaxing in the death-resurrection of Christ. It was the time for the baptism of those prepared during Lent, and for all to celebrate the Eucharist with the newly-baptized as they came to the table for the first time. This ancient service is being recovered today. The ancient song from the Vigil should pervade all our Easter celebrations:
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Easter is not a
day but a season which is appropriately called The Great Fifty Days. It is a time of great joy and excitement as
the meaning of the resurrection is unfolded and we anticipate the significance
of the giving of the Holy Spirit.
traditional color for Easter Day is WHITE or GOLD, with white remaining until
the Day of Pentecost. The use of fine
and elegant fabrics expresses joy.
ASCENSION DAY, forty days after the celebration of the resurrection begins (Acts 1:3), marks the assumption of glory and power by the crucified and risen Lord. This is what we affirm when we say in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in Jesus Christ who rose on the third day, “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” Ascension Day embodies the meaning of the Easter season - resurrection, ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit - Jesus Christ is Lord! He is Lord not just of the church, but is Lord over all creation. At his name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:9-10).
The day of PENTECOST brings the Easter season to a climactic finale. The world rejoices with unrestrained joy, for the God who raised Jesus from the dead has raised the church, and sent it on its missionary tasks, and has given the Holy Spirit to be its life-giving soul.
roots of Pentecost are in the Jewish festival of Shavout; of which the Greek word Pentecost is the equivalent-the “fiftieth day.” Shavout is the fiftieth day after the
beginning of Passover; the Christian Pentecost is the fifteith day of
that Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, Jews from all parts of the Empire
were gathered together. The hearing in
one language came as a sign of the reversal of
is the traditional color, suggestive of the flames of Pentecost and the birth
of the church.
TRINITY SUNDAY was added to the liturgical calendar about A.D. 1000. It centers on a theological doctrine rather than on an event. It proclaims the Triune God, into whose name we are baptized, and who is active in redeeming the world. WHITE is the traditional color.
ALL SAINTS’ DAY, November 1, is a time to rejoice in all who through the ages have faithfully served God. It reminds us that we are part of one continuing, living communion of saints. It is a time to claim our kinship with the “glorious company of apostles…the noble fellowship of prophets, the white-robed army of martyrs” (Te Deum). It is a time to express our gratitude for all who in ages of darkness kept the faith, for those who have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth, for prophetic voices who have called the church to be faithful in life and service, for all who have witnessed to justice and peace in every nation.
To rejoice in God with all of the faithful of every generation expands our awareness that there is a great company of witnesses above and around us like a cloud (Heb. 12:1). It lifts us out of a preoccupation with our own immediate situation and the discouragements of the present. In the knowledge that others have persevered, we are encouraged to endure against all odds (Heb. 12:1-2). Reminded that God was with the faithful of the past, we are reassured that God is with us today, moving us and all creation toward God’s end in time. In this context, it is appropriate for a congregation on All Saints’ Day to commemorate the lives of those who died during the previous year. WHITE is the traditional color for All Saints’ Day, since it is Christ in the lives of the faithful whom we celebrate.
The festival of CHRIST THE KING ends our marking time “after Pentecost,” and moves us to the threshold of Advent, the season of hope for Christ’s coming again at the end of time.
The day centers us upon the crucified and risen Christ, whom God exalted to rule over the whole universe. Christ reigns supreme. He rules in peace. His truth judges every falsehood. As the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, Christ is the center of the universe, the ruler of all history, the judge of all peoples. In Him all things began, and in Him all things will be fulfilled in the end. Christ will triumph over all of the forces of evil.
Such concepts as these cluster around the affirmation that Christ is King. As sovereign ruler, Christ calls us to a loyalty that transcends every earthly claim upon the human heart. To Him alone belongs the supreme allegiance of our lives. He calls us to stand with those who in every age confessed, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” In every generation, demagogues emerge to claim an allegiance that belongs only to God. But Christ alone has the right to claim our highest loyalty. The blood of martyrs, past and present, witnesses to this truth.
Behold the glory of the eternal Christ! From the beginning of time to its ending, Christ rules above all earthly powers! Since it is a festival of the Lord, WHITE is the traditional color for Christ the King.