The Church Year is for Us catholics

Why the Christmas Season 
but only Easter Day?

Last week Kevin Trax over at the Gospel Coalition asserted:"Easter isn’t a big enough deal for evangelicals in the West." He asked:

Why do we spend an entire season of the year thinking about and celebrating Christmas, but just a weekend thinking about and celebrating the impact of the resurrection?

He followed up with additional questions:

Since we sing Christmas songs in church for several weeks leading up Christmas, why can’t we sing Easter songs for a few weeks after the resurrection?
Since we’re used to hearing Christmas music for weeks around Christmas, why can’t we create playlists and sing Easter music this time of year?
Since we have traditions for our Christmas celebrations – some with the church and others with our families, why can’t maintain and extend these traditions for Easter?
Some of my Presbyterian friends will respond to such questions with scoffing. They will argue: "There is no justification for Christmas or Easter or any special Days or Seasons, which are 'man-made holy days.' The only holy day God authorizes is the weekly Sabbath which, by the way, is a weekly celebration of the Resurrection. All additions to the Sabbath day are violations of the Second Commandment, which teaches the Regulative Principle of Worship (God strictly regulates what may be done in worship by direct command or approved example). Special days and seasons are 'will worship' (worship established by the will of man, not God), a return to the fleshly worship of the Old Testament, a denial of the spirituality and simplicity of the Gospel, and idolatrous."

Those who believe in and practise the Regulative Principle with such precision and strictness are a rather small group even among the Presbyterians. Most Presbyterians and other evangelicals will allow some observance of Christmas and Easter, though some may avoid using those terms. They probably would not take any notice of Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, or Trinity. Many would observe Advent as the "Christmas Season" but would draw the line at Lent as a bridge too far. Some would take notice of Palm Sunday and either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, seldom both. 

In other words most Presbyterians belong to the camp Trevin Wax refers to as "evangelicals in the West." Evangelicals in the West do what they want when it comes to the Church Year. They do some, perhaps only a few, maybe a lot, of the special days, but they operate by one of two principles: (1) What do we want to do? ("Let's observe Christmas and sing carols for the Sundays in December leading up to Christmas Day.") (2) What must we do in light of the people's expecting that we take some notice of special days? ("The people want Christmas and Easter so we'll give one Sunday to each and ignore the rest.") Quite a few will observe the high holy days of Mother's Day (the third biggest attendance Sunday in the U.S.) and with less hoopla Father's Day.

Now in the interests of full disclosure I confess that, when it comes to the Christian Year, during my Presbyterian years I led congregations to observe Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity. I tried to take as little notice as possible, preferably none, of the civil calendar of Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the Fourth of July. 

It is worth noting, perhaps, that the PCA-OPC Hymnal has a section of hymns dealing with our Lord's Advent (193-198), Birth (199- 233), Life (234-241), Atonement (242-246), Sufferings (247-250), Death (251-264), Resurrection (265-288), Ascension (289-294), and Heavenly Session (295-302). And, of course, there are sections on the Holy Spirit (329-341) and on the Holy Trinity (100-107). In other words Trinity Hymnal is organized in such a way as to serve, if not outright encourage, the observance of the Church Year by Presbyterians. Further, as I have noted before, those in the first generation of students at Reformed Theological Seminary were taught
worship by use of Princeton's Donald Macleod's Presbyterian Worship:It's Meaning and Method which included a chapter on "The Christian Year" (it is notable how closely Robert Rayburn's Evangelical Worship follows Macleod)  and the 1946 Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (which borrowed heavily from The Book of Common Prayer) which provided for the observance of the Church Year with a two year lectionary.

Now, as it turns out, Mr. Wax has experienced a prolonged Easter Season and misses it:
Easter is a season, not just a day. And as someone who has experienced Eastertide firsthand, I confess that I miss it terribly. 
In Romania, the evangelical churches (influenced by the Orthodox emphasis on the resurrection) gave much more attention to Easter. 
Our taste buds knew it was Easter when we savored the lamb.
Our ears knew it was Easter because the greeting “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed” was standard for more than a month after Easter Sunday had passed.
For weeks after Easter, the sermons and songs followed the story of the risen Lord. (The Sunday after Easter usually made mention of Jesus’ appearance to doubting Thomas.) 
We heard the great resurrection stories and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus again and again.
When I lived in Romania, I remember thinking, Easter is a big deal. 
I miss Eastertide. I miss the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. And it’s not because I don’t have my own Easter playlist going full blast during this time. I do, and I love it. It’s because I feel like I’m on my own. Everyone else seems to have moved on from Easter already.
Where did Mr. Wax experience Eastertide? When he was part of a form of evangelicalism that, because of the influence of Orthodoxy on the culture, observed more of the Church Year than evangelicalism in the U.S. In other words he got used to the extended celebration of Easter because the evangelicalism of which he was a part in Romania was more in touch with and influenced by catholic Christianity - at least with regard to the liturgical calendar. 

And that's point. There is small minority of Presbyterians who observe no Church Year as a matter of principle. They believe it would be sin so to do. Then there is the broader evangelicalism in the U.S. which has no scruples against the Church Year, but flies by the seat of its pants, guided by no more than preferences, feelings, and whims. These evangelicals in matters of the church year, as in so many matters, do what they please. 

Then there is catholic Christianity which from ancient times spends the time from Advent to Trinity rehearsing, reliving, learning about, and celebrating who Jesus Christ is, what he has done for our salvation, and the fulness of the revelation of God that is found in him. 

Most of Christianity in the world follows such such an annual and orderly calendar. Roman Catholicism. Orthodoxy. Anglicanism. Lutheranism. Methodism. Many of the continental Reformed. Not a few Presbyterians with British roots. Then there are the evangelicals of the sort Mr. Wax experienced in Romania who sort of follow such a calendar. 

The most strict of the Presbyterians who roll out the canons and lay down a barrage of warning and condemnation at Christmas and Easter and most especially at the beginning of Lent can only conclude that the overwhelming majority of Christians are at best disobedient and unfaithful and at worst apostate and no Christians at all.

For my part I increasingly had the sense that Christianity must be more historically grounded and more connected with worldwide Christianity than I previously thought. Dick Bodey and Al Fruendt at RTS planted those seeds in classes on liturgics and church history. In the 90s I expressed my growing conviction as I wrote a concurring opinion in the case of a Presbyterian minister who had converted to Roman Catholicism, and I suggested that the attraction of Roman Catholicism lay in part in a desire for historical roots, ecumenical connection, and liturgical logic. 

I am Anglican who is a convinced Protestant. I believe the 39 Articles with their unambiguous Protestant teaching. I am not among those who would like to reset the Anglican clock to the time of the so-called "undivided church" as the Anglo-catholics desire. I am, further, a Protestant who does not think the Articles got doctrines such justification wrong and that we needed N.T. Wright to come along and set us straight. 

But I am an Anglican Christian who believes there are far more Christians in the world stretched across time and space than I used to believe. And I am a Christian who heartily embraces the blessings of the annual rhythm of the Christian Year with its focus on the person, work, and revelation of Jesus Christ. The Church Year is the practice of the church catholic in nearly all its branches.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece. I mostly just stick to a Lord's Day focus out of laziness/simplicity. Not a fan of any break from the routine the older I get.


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