Orienting Our Lives Around the Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ
Then we continue in his steps as he gives us the Spirit and expands his kingdom through the building of his church. The Christian year ends with the expectation of his second coming (or advent), which in turn starts us off on another year together as a community of believers.
The Christian Seasons and Important Days of Worship
Advent – The 4 Sundays Before Christmas
Advent means coming or arrival. During the Season of Advent, we celebrate Christ’s first coming as a baby at Bethlehem and anticipate his second coming. This is a time of preparation but also of joy and excitement, looking ahead to how God will reveal himself to us in Christ.
Christmas – 12 Days from December 25 to January 5
At Christmas we recognize God’s special gift to the world, his son Jesus Christ. We follow his example and offer gifts to each other during this season. Though the exact date of Christ’s birth is unknown, we gather on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to celebrate his incarnation: the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14).
Epiphany – January 6 (also called Three Kings Day); the 4 to 7 weeks following January 6 to the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday)
The term epiphany means ‘to make known’ or ‘to reveal.’ On this day we remember the Magi who brought gifts to the Christ child, a revelation of Jesus to the world as Lord and King.
Note 1: Epiphany Sunday is often celebrated on the Sunday just prior to January 6.
Note 2: Christ’s Baptism is often celebrated on the Sunday following Epiphany.
Note 3: Some traditions refer to the Season of Epiphany, others call it Ordinary Time.
Lent – 40 Days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (the night before Easter)
Lent is a penitential season of preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for forty days, since the six Sundays within the season are not counted.
Key Days of Worship During Lent: Ash Wednesday; then Holy Week which includes: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
“Ash Wednesday, the 7th Wednesday before Easter Sunday, refers to the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.” (Dennis Bratcher)
Easter – 7 Weeks of Easter: 50 Days from Easter to Pentecost Sunday
The date of Easter is determined by a system based on a formula decided by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. In this system, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This usually occurs on March 21, which means the date of Easter can range between March 22 and April 25 depending on the lunar cycle. (Bratcher)
Note 1: The Easter Season includes Ascension Day, always on a Thursday, 10 days before Pentecost. It is often celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost.
Note 2: Though ‘Easter’ is not a specifically Christian term, the day is definitely not a simple celebration of spring. ‘Resurrection Sunday’ might be a better term for this most holy of days in the Christian year.
Pentecost Sunday – 50 days After Easter
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit (recorded in Acts 2) occurred 50 days (penta = 50) after the resurrection. This ‘upper room’ experience fulfilled the prophecies of Joel 2 and promises of Jesus (Acts 1:8). The emphasis is on the work of God’s Holy Spirit to enable the people of God to witness to Jesus the Christ.
Ordinary Time – From Trinity Sunday to Christ the King Sunday
Trinity Sunday – the Sunday after Pentecost, Celebrates God’s Triune Nature
Christ the King Sunday – the Sunday before Advent, Celebrates Christ’s Kingly Return
In the final few weeks of Ordinary Time, many churches direct attention to the coming of the Kingdom of God, thus ending the Christian year with an eschatological theme (referring to the end times). This brings us back to the Season of Advent, the coming of Christ, which begins a new liturgical calendar.
Note: Ordinary Time comes from the word ordinal, which simply means counted.
(Acknowledgment: Much of this material was adapted from Dennis Bratcher’s website, The Voice: http://www.crivoice.org/chyear.html)