principal holidays and seasons of the Christian year and what they mean
humans order or arrange the physical space in which they live, for example, their
homes, neighborhoods, and cities, they also have a propensity for ordering time. Most
Christian denominations utilize a calendar that has evolved over two millennium
in which the year is divided into several seasons, beginning with Advent, the
period of four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each of the seasons is associated
with a specific color, as well as certain Biblical texts or themes that give focus
to public worship and private prayer.
Like all calendars, the liturgical
calendar is based on recurring seasons in nature: fall, winter, spring, and summer,
marked out by the movement of the sun (solar calendars of 365 days) or the phases
of the moon (lunar calendars, 12 months of 28 days). The calendar of the Christian
church makes use of both kinds and for this reason can be somewhat confusing as
holidays based on the solar calendar like Christmas always occur on the same date
each year whereas holidays based on the lunar calendar like Easter occur on different
dates each year, reflecting the cycles of the moon. (continued below)
The liturgical calendar was developed over many
centuries, appropriating rituals common to many cultures, to tell the story of
Christís birth, death, and resurrection as the pattern not only for the life of
the Church and its worship, but also the progress of the individual believer toward
union with God. At one level, the seasons of the Christian year are ordered around
the life and work of Jesus, beginning with Advent and Christmas.
Christmas season is one of twelve days, ending with Epiphany, which marks the
coming of the magi to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
extends for a period of 4 to 9 weeks in which the believer follows the major events
of Christ's life, from his baptism which marks the start of his public ministry
and ending with Ash Wednesday.
During Lent, Christians follow
Christ toward the culminating days of Holy Week and Easter in which his confrontation
with the "powers and principalities" of this world came to a climax
in his death, and then, the resurrection.
Christians remember the relatively short period during which the risen Christ
appeared to the disciples on earth. According to the creeds, he then "ascended"
into heaven; the church was not abandoned by God, however, but rather was blessed
by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost Sunday celebrates
that presence in the life of the church and is followed by a season of 24 weeks,
often referred to as "ordinary time," in which both the church and the
individual believer focus on the work they are called to do in the world as the
living "body of Christ."
At another level
the cycle of the Church year is understood, not just as a rehearsal of events
that happened in the distant past, but as a reflection of those universal themes
and patterns that are part of the structure of reality itself. As one follows
the trajectory of the Christian year, one is also following the trajectory of
the cosmos itself, as it moves from the moment of creation to its final consummation.
In this we are all on a journey, an often painful one that leads through many
joys and sorrows and many seasons of the heart toward that final moment when we
return to the Source.
For Christians the journey is not
without purpose or direction, but rather points toward the time when all things
shall be caught up once again in the unity of a just and loving God.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.