Resurrection, Mikhail Vrubel 1887

Understanding the Seasons

The seasons and observances follow the outline of the life and ministry of Jesus allowing us to tread in his footsteps year after year.

Advent – The Anticipation of Christ

Name: Latin for ‘Coming’ or ‘Arrival’
Emphasis: We recall the days prior to the first coming of Christ and repent as we look forward to his second coming. 
Colors: Purple – Royalty, Repentance (Weeks 1, 2, 4); Pink – Joy, Happiness (Week 3)

Christmas – The Birth of Christ

Name: Originally ‘The Christ Mass’, or the service celebrating incarnation of Christ (the term Mass is from the Old English for ‘dismissal’ and was likely the final word of the church service)
Emphasis: We celebrate that God the Son became flesh by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and dwelt among us.
Color: Gold – Majesty, Glory

Epiphany – The Manifestation of Christ

Name: Greek for ‘Manifestation’
Emphasis: We affirm that in Jesus of Nazareth the kingdom of God is shining its light into the dark realm of the devil.
Colors: Green – Hope, Life; Gold – Majesty, Glory (The Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday)

Lent – The Lowliness of Christ

Name: Short for Lenten, from the Old English for ‘Springtime’
Emphasis: We take up the cross and walk with Christ the path of complete humility and servanthood.
Colors: Purple – Royalty, Repentance

Holy Week – The Suffering and Death of Christ

Name: Traditionally the final three days are called the Paschal Triduum, which means the three days related to our Passover.
Emphasis: We share in the sufferings and death of Christ in order that we may be raised to new life in him.
Colors: Purple – Royalty, Repentance; Black – Mourning, Death (Good Friday, Holy Saturday)

Easter – The Resurrection of Christ

Name: Historically called Pascha from the Greek for Passover; Easter was adapted from the name of an ancient English month equivalent to April.
Emphasis: We shout for joy because Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father; Christ is the victor over sin, death, and Satan! 
Colors: Gold – Majesty, Glory

Pentecost – The Coming of the Holy Spirit

Name: From the Greek for ’50’; the Holy Spirit arrived 50 days after the resurrection. 
Emphasis: We remember that the arrival of Holy Spirit on the church means new life and amazing power to declare and demonstrate the victory of Christ to the ends of the earth.  
Colors: Red – Holy Spirit as a Fire

Kingdomtide (Ordinary Time) – A Season of Christ’s Headship, Harvest, and Hope

Name: The suffix ‘tide’ is Old English for a period of time. Kingdomtide then is the time of the advance of the kingdom. Ordinary means numbered (as in ordinal numbers 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.)
Emphasis: In these last days the Spirit-filled church submits to the headship of Christ our Lord, labors for the harvest of Christ our Savior, and prepares the way for the second coming of Christ our King.
Colors: Gold – Majesty, Glory (Trinity Sunday, Reign of Christ the King); Green – Hope, Life; Red – Blood of the Martyrs (All Saints’ Day)

Understanding the Calendar

The Date of Easter – The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox. This Sunday always falls between 3/22–4/25.

Dependent Celebrations – A 90-day Moving Block

  • Ash Wednesday – 40 Days Before Easter
  • Ascension Day – 40 Days After Easter, but is usually celebrated the Sunday before Pentecost (6th Sunday of Easter)
  • Pentecost – 50 Days After Easter (7th Sunday of Easter)

Epiphany and Kingdomtide adjust on either side to compensate.

  • Weeks 6¬–8 of Epiphany = Propers 1–3 of Kingdomtide
  • Epiphany can be as short as 5 Sundays, or as long as 9. The last Sunday always celebrates the Transfiguration of Christ.
  • Kingdomtide can begin anywhere between Propers 1–9. The first Sunday of Kingdomtide is always Trinity Sunday.

Understanding the History and Development of the Church Year

The Jewish Liturgical Calendar

  • The church year has its roots in the Jewish festival calendar laid out by the Lord in the Old Testament.
  • The Lord designed for his people, Israel, a program of shared spiritual formation that included regular observances, festivals, feasts, and fasts.
  • Sabbath – The Foundation of the Calendar
    • Weekly Saturday Rest – 7 Day Cycle
    • Sabbatical Year Rest – 7 Year Cycle
    • Year of Jubilee – 7x7 Year Cycle
  • Major Seasonal Observances (see Leviticus 23)
    • Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread (Mid-April) – Re-enactment of the night before the great Exodus; all males required to appear in Jerusalem.
    • Feast of Pentecost/Weeks/First-fruits (7 Weeks after Passover, Early June)– Celebration of the first-fruits of the harvest, and remembers the giving of the Law at Sinai; all males required to appear in Jerusalem.
    • Feast of Trumpets (Early October) – Civil New Year [Rosh Hashanah]
    • The Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] (Mid-October) – High holy day of the Israelite year; a solemn fast, and day of repentance, where the high priest enters into the Holy of Holies and cleanses both the nation and the temple from sin.
    • Feast of Tabernacles (Late October) – Marks the completion of the harvest, and remembers the wandering of Israel in the desert; all males required to appear in Jerusalem.
  • Seasonal Observances Added Later
    • Festival of Purim (Mid-March) – Originates in the mid 400’s B.C. It celebrates the deliverance of the Jews narrated in the book of Esther. 
    • Festival of Lights [Hanukkah] (Late December) – Originated in 164 B.C.; Celebrates the rededication of the Temple beginning the brief period where the Jewish Maccabees ruled in Judea.

Early Jewish Christianity

  • The earliest Christians thought of themselves as essentially Jewish (see Acts 2.46, 3.1, 5.20,42, 11.26 [It is not until here that a new name, ‘Christian,’ is used to describe them.])
  • The Jewish festival calendar centered on two foci – The Exodus and the harvest.
  • Building on the God-ordained festival calendar, the early church began to reshape the liturgical year in light of the coming of the prophesied Messiah, who brought the new Exodus, and who calls us into a new harvest.
  • Saturday Sabbath  Sunday, The Lord’s Day (in honor of the day of Christ’s resurrection; see Acts 20.7, 1 Corinthians 16.2, Revelation 1.10)
  • Passover  Easter (1 Corinthians 5.7–8)
  • Pentecost, Festival of First-fruits of the Wheat Harvest  Pentecost the Celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit bringing in the First-fruits of the great Spiritual Harvest

The Development of the Church Year

  • The weekly Sunday celebration (centering on hearing the Word, and taking communion) and the yearly celebration of Easter in place of Passover have legitimate claim to originating in the time of the biblical Apostles.
  • Pentecost is celebrated with a distinct Christian emphasis in the earliest post-Apostolic time, likely the 100’s. This development constitutes the first season of the church year, the 50 days of the Easter season.
  • The other major seasons are added over the next 200 years.
    • Advent – A period of preparation for the nativity of Christ is in place by the mid-300’s. The length of this time, however, varied from 3 weeks to 40 days until the 500’s when Gregory the Great fixed it at 4 weeks.
    • Christmas & Epiphany – These two celebrations are closely linked. Originally, Easter celebrated “the entire mystery of Christ including the incarnation with the moment of conception, which put the nativity nine months later” (Cobb, 467).  These seasons were likely united in their origin. The first clear reference to these as yearly celebrations of the church comes in 361. The ancient festival celebrated the nativity, the visit of the Magi, the baptism, and the first miracle of Jesus (the Miracle at Cana). Christmas likely becomes independent of Epiphany in the early 300’s.
    • Lent – The first mention of Lent is at the Council of Nicaea (325), although it is widely known and accepted by then. This likely puts its origin in the 200’s.
    • Holy Week – Palm Sunday was reenacted yearly in Jerusalem as early as the 300’s, and was imitated in other places starting in the 400’s. The Paschal Triduum originated around this same time.
  • Other observances are added by the church as the centuries passed.
    • All Saints’ Day – As early as the 400’s Christians celebrated a day honoring the martyrs of the church. In 609/10, the church made All Saints’ Day an official celebration of the church year.
    • Trinity Sunday – Originates as a grassroots celebration in the 1000’s, and is officially mandated as part of the church year in the 1300’s.
    • Christ the King – Instituted in 1925 to combat nationalism following World War I. Many Christians were displaying a loyalty to countries and leaders that eclipsed their loyalty to Christ and his church.
    • Note: Other forms of the church year include celebrations for various people and events on almost every day of the year.
  • Lectionaries developed alongside the church year as a schedule of appropriate readings for the days and seasons.
    • Jewish tradition actually suggests that readings were associated with certain festivals and days in the time of Moses.
    • Whether this tradition is true or not, it is clear that lectionaries existed in Judaism during the second temple period (516 B.C.E. – A.D.70). The Christian use of lectionaries seems to have been inherited from Judaism.