How Jesus Changed Time: Redeeming the Liturgical Year

Photo by  Lapis Ruber

Photo by Lapis Ruber

All of life is measured by different increments of time. We all tend to live according to seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Some of us measure our lives in weather seasons and, if you’re a student, your life is probably measured in semesters. Depending on your background, your life might be measured by the church calendar as well. For those who were raised in the Roman Catholic Church or another high-church culture (e.g., Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian), you are probably familiar with the liturgical calendar. For others, like myself, who grew up as a Baptist and consequently in a low-church culture, the liturgical calendar is a complete mystery.

Jesus Changed Time

Regardless of your background, time is important. Think back to the Old Testament. On many occasions, the Israelites are commanded to celebrate and commemorate important moments and times in their history. Events like the Passover, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and God’s deliverance of Israel through Esther (Purim) are all celebrated each year on a particular day. When Jesus came to the earth, he changed everything, including how we see the days of our lives. It was during the Passover that he was arrested, crucified, buried, and resurrected. Thus the celebration of the Passover was transformed from the Old Testament celebration of how God delivered Israel from slavery out of Egypt into today’s celebration of how God delivered all of humanity from sin through Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection became so important that the church began celebrating it regularly by meeting weekly on Sundays, the day he resurrected from the grave. Ultimately, “The most important parts of the Christian year celebrate the historical aspects of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ in union with events in his own life.”1 For this reason, the Christian or liturgical year begins with the birth of Jesus during the Advent season and culminates with Pentecost and the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Why Is Time Important?

You might agree that Jesus changed how we see time with his life, death, burial, and resurrection, but you might still be asking why is something like a liturgical or Christian year is important. Depending on your tradition, the liturgical calendar could be seen as an added tradition to Christianity. And you would be right. However, like all traditions, the liturgical calendar can be redeemed and utilized for the good of the Christian life. Rather than thinking about the liturgical year as an empty tradition, consider it as “the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes, year after year, to immerse over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life… The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening.”2 Or consider the liturgical calendar as “an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus.”3 The Christian calendar is designed to focus our attention and energy on more than just ourselves. The liturgical year should remind and compel us to think about who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

Living in New Orleans, you’re probably more familiar with the liturgical year than you think. In less than a week, our city will celebrate Mardi Gras, the day leading up to Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which is forty days of preparation prior to Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Ash Wednesday and Lent are important times in our city, but should be even more important times in our lives as Christians. Next week, we are going to look at the importance of both Ash Wednesday and Lent as we anticipate Easter. Also, don’t forget to join us for one of Vintage Church’s Ash Wednesday worship gatherings. They will be on Wednesday, February 18th. We will have one gathering from 6:30-7:30 am at Vintage Jefferson (3927 Rayne St., Metairie, LA) and another gathering from 6:30-7:30 pm at the Vintage Arts Center (4523 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA).

1T.J. German, “The Christian Year,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. Walter A. Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 237.
2Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year: The Shaping Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 6.
3Ibid., 4.