Seasons of Worship
A Year in the Life of the Church
Every Sunday, you see the pulpit cloth and the clergy stoles in matching colors representing the season in the Christian calendar. Often, you also see reference to the “Liturgical Season” next to the date on the bulletin. For many, this is simply a mystery and they are too afraid to ask just what this is all about.
The Church follows a “liturgical calendar” — in our case, we follow the Protestant Church Calendar — which divides the year into various seasons. The Church year begins in December with the joyous anticipation of the season of Advent just as the secular calendar year is winding down.
The first season is Advent, which includes the four Sundays before Christmas Day. In Advent, worship centers on preparing to celebrate the comings of Christ — remembering his birth, recognizing his continual presence, and anticipating his final victory. Traditionally, this season, with its emphasis on preparation, culminates in the celebration of Christmas Day. Our secular celebrations ignore the preparatory significance of this time and skip to celebration. This is certainly understandable! Yet, the Church calls us to use this time to reflect on our heart’s yearning for God to break into our lives and our world once again with the surprising / shocking good news of salvation and grace — and once this yearning is recognized, we are more apt to be in a position for genuine celebration and joy. The color used in worship for this season is either Purple or Royal Blue.
This is the shortest season in the church calendar. It includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and continues until the Day of Epiphany (often, the first Sunday in January). It is a season of joy — a time for praise and thanksgiving in worship for the profound (if not familiar) notion of God becoming incarnate in Jesus. Often, there is only one Sunday between Christmas Eve and Epiphany Sunday which, traditionally, includes a Covenant Renewal Service (an opportunity to renew our vows of faithfulness to God through Christ and our commitment to following the ways of Christ in our everyday lives). The color used in worship for this season is White.
The celebration of Epiphany is more ancient among Christians than Christmas or Advent. It begins with the Day of Epiphany (which is the traditional day celebrating the coming of the Wise Men) and is followed by what is officially called the “Season After Epiphany”. It is the season which recognizes the Incarnation (God coming to us in the “carnal” or flesh) and Baptism of Jesus. We have traditionally included a “Remember Your Baptism” service during this season. Although much less recognized by most people, this season calls us to pay attention! Epiphanies are manifestations — God present with us in ways that are often unnoticed, overlooked, or simply taken for granted. In some traditions, the Day of Epiphany is a huge celebration intended to include much laughter and play. The color used in worship for this season is Green.
This season of forty days (not including Sundays) is another season of preparation (re: Advent). Lent is a time to prepare for the celebration of Easter and invites us to a more somber time of self-reflection and an honest accounting of the ways we have fallen short in our faithful following of the ways of Jesus. However, because we are still an “Easter people”, we engage this season always with a recognition of God’s grace and an attitude of hope. This season begins with Ash Wednesday — a day that asks us to confront our mortality and confess our sin as we also remember our baptism and our reassurance the grace of salvation. It concludes with Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) and includes the services of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. For many, Lent and the services of Holy Week are the most profoundly moving services of the Christian year. The color used in worship for this season is Purple.
Easter Sunday begins this most joyous season of the Christian year. The season of Easter lasts from Easter Sunday to the Day of Pentecost, which is called the Great Fifty Days because of its intentional emphasis on joy and celebration. It focuses on Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It is interesting to note that the ancient name for this time was called “Pasch”, which is derived from the Hebrew word “pesah” (meaning deliverance or passover) which connects the Resurrection to the Exodus, freedom from slavery and freedom from sin and death the primary themes of each. The color used in worship for this season is White.
The Day of Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter and ends the season of Easter. This is the day celebrating the Church’s receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Kingdomtide / “Ordinary Time”
The season following the Day of Pentecost is known as either KINGDOMTIDE or ORDINARY TIME and it lasts through the summer and fall ending on the first Sunday of Advent. It is, therefore, the longest season on the Christian calendar. The term “Kingdomtide” was first used in 1937 as a means of encouraging churches to emphasizing Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God during these months. It is no longer used by any denomination except the United Methodist Church and has been shortened to the first 13 to 14 weeks within the season of Ordinary Time. The Sundays of this season are more commonly referred to in reference to the number of weeks after Pentecost (example: July 14, 2013 is the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost). Ordinary Time is not a reference to a blasé time in the life of the church but is based on these “numbered” Sundays (“Ordinals”). The colors used in worship for this season are Red (Pentecost Sunday and, if desired, the weeks in Kingdomtide) and Green.