This video provides a really helpful introduction to the church calendar and the significance of the different seasons throughout the year. I didn't grow up in a context where the church year was observed (with the exception of the major feast days), nor do I think it is something every church must necessarily adopt. That being said, it is something I have come to deeply appreciate, and I think observing the church year is of great benefit to the shaping of the life of the church, for a few different reasons.
In the first place, as the video says, it roots the church in the story of the gospel. It's not just that we hear the gospel each time we meet together, though that should certainly be the case, but that we inhabit the story throughout the whole of the year in a much more profound way. We spend long periods reflecting and dwelling on the story of redemption and the work of Jesus to reconcile us to God and give us new life. We slow down and recognise what God's people have known for so long – that this is a story that unfolds over thousands and thousands of years, and that we have to wait upon the Lord, who brings salvation in the fullness of time.
I think this season of Advent that we are in right now, for example, is so important for the church because we've largely lost that sense of waiting and anticipation. One of the characteristics of the early church was the sense that Jesus' return was imminent, and therefore the idea of running the race and pressing on in the pursuit of holiness was an urgent task, as was the call to make disciples of all nations. As we wait for Christ's second Advent, recapturing this sense of the imminence of his return would reawaken a church that in so many ways has lost this urgency.
Secondly, this is about formation. As James K.A. Smith has rightly observed, we are shaped less by what we think than by what we love, and those loves are cultivated by the stories and liturgies that we inhabit, intentionally or otherwise. He argues persuasively in his excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom, that our culture is well aware of the reality that we are liturgical beings and bombards us ceaselessly with narrations of the world that seek to capture our hearts and imaginations and orient us towards a particular vision of flourishing and of what it means to be human. The only antidote to these pervasive attempts to re-narrate the world is to firmly root ourselves in the true story of the world, revealed to us in Scripture. And the primary means we do this is through the worship of the church. The church calendar helps us to rehearse that true story of the world throughout the whole of the year in our worship, constantly keeping us rooted in that story and helping us resist those attempts to reshape and reorient us.
Finally, this is a way for Christians to be distinctly separate from the world, to declare that we belong to a different Kingdom and that our lives are ordered differently. Christ is Lord over all of our life, including how we mark time. We march to the ticking of a different clock, and allow that clock to set our focus and our priorities. As people who are baptised into Christ and given a new identity, we root ourselves in the story of redemption and spend the year pointing to Jesus and the salvation that comes through him, constantly rehearsing how God has acted in history and placing ourselves in that story.
And that can only be a good thing.
(HT: Dan Stringer)