In my work as campus minister at a Christian school, it often falls to me to answer questions from my Southern Baptist co-workers regarding some of my allegiance to the Christian year. A few days ago a farmer working on our campus farm stopped by to ask me about the Ash Wednesday service he saw promoted in the campus newsletter. When someone has no understanding of the Christian year or the place of seasons and celebrations in Christian history, it’s hard to know where to start in explaining the value of things that the person may only understand as bad because they are “Catholic.”
So I’ve developed a bit of a “sell” to explain the Christian year to my Baptist friends. I’m not unrealistic, but I am hopeful that somewhere in what I have to say, I’ll at least stir up some curiosity.
I like to think about it like this:
The Bible encourages us to not be “pressed” into the world’s mold. When I was growing up, I understood that to have to do with sin, but now I understand that all kinds of things encourage or discourage me in following Jesus closely. The value system of the world; its finances; its media and, yes, its calendar.
I live my live by a Calendar that’s a mixture of my American culture, the school where I work and some family traditions. Christians in the first centuries of the church lived in cultures that shaped their thinking using calendars dominated by politics and pagan religious observances. To resist the “mold” of their culture, it only made sense to make the calendar a Christ-centered story.
So the Christian year began, and evolved, not as a way to honor any church, but as a way to honor Christ — all year long. The year follows his life, passion and ministry. The significant times of the Church calendar invite us to come to Bethlehem, find the empty tomb, and on Ash Wednesday, begin the long walk with Jesus to the cross.
Some of the things in that calendar go back to the very earliest centuries of the history of the church. Others came along many centuries later. Not all of the Christian year needs to be understood or appreciated for it to be a way to shape our worship, family life and personal devotion.
Our goal is to be shaped by Christ, and constantly mindful of what he has done for us. In the seasons of the church year, we hear the stories of Jesus from the scripture, and we’re always invited to join the story, meditate on Jesus and deepen our identification with him.
Is this putting one day above another, as some of the Puritans objected? No…it’s putting Christ above everything. When I make the lectionary (another post) the companion of my journey through the Christian year, I feel I’ve literally joined the great crowd of witnesses, moving through life and into eternity led by the great shepherd, Jesus Christ.
The Christian year is a powerful way of filling my life with Christ, and being shaped by his Gospel. It puts me in the company of other believers, and it reminds me of the most important story that can affect my life: the story of Jesus.
Michael Spencer has been the campus minister at the Oneida Baptist Institute in Kentucky, USA, for 15 years, where he preaches, teaches and ministers to hundreds of students from around the world. His blog is www.internetmonk.com.