This Sunday is November 1 or “All Saint’s Sunday”, when we remember those in our lives who have passed away. The question of the day asked by a friend is, “who says we have to do All Saint’s day, Advent, Lent and all of that? Do we have to?” How do you figure these dates out?
These are traditional special days and seasons of the “church year”. These things are not necessarily from scripture but come from centuries of tradition. Nope, as United Methodists we are not obligated to follow them though some denominations are more strict.
I follow it for three main reasons. First, it connects me with the whole of the Bible’s story from Genesis to Revelation with some order. Second, it connects me with the whole of the church, God’s people, as we journey through the scripture together. And finally, it is a good discipline. I follow the 3-year cycle of the “Revised common Lectionary, about 90% of the time to keep me from just preaching the passages I like-In other words, following the church year keeps me better grounded and less centered on my pet passages.
The Christian year begins with Advent-4 Sunday before Christmas and Christmas eve celebration of ‘hope’, ‘faith’, ‘joy’, ‘love’ and completion. Count the “12 Days of Christmas” after December 25 to connect us to the journey of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus on “Epiphany”, January 6-Many Christians open their gifts on Epiphany. “Lent” connects us to the story of Christ in the desert of temptation for 40 days.
You first calculate Easter to coincide with Passover-The Sunday after the full moon on or after the spring equinox (considered to be March 21), then count back 50 days and that will give you Ash Wednesday with a smudge which is Lent’s opening day. This is a traditional time for Baptisms!
After Easter we journey to Pentecost Sunday, which happened on the Jewish Holiday 50 Days after Passover. After that we have “common” or “ordinary” time until we start again on the first Sunday of Advent. Following this outline injects the story of the Holy Bible into our daily lives and helps make it a living reality and not just an academic study.
That’s it in a very brief paragraph. Even though we aren’t obligated to follow it, the church year, liturgical year, the lectionary, or whatever you want to call it, gives us a structure that reflects the witness of schripture and connects us to it. The bottom line is not keeping all of these special days but keeping the spiritual journey with Jesus. Scores of traditions have been attached to all of the special days but the common thread is to meet and grow in His grace.
It is more than Bunnies and decorated trees!