By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
Recently, a friend who clearly knows me well sent me this quote…
Some parents run a tight ship. I run a pirate ship. There is some swearing, some drinking, and a touch of mutiny.
I run a house with two teenagers. I identify. But I imagine that God belly laughs at this just as much as I do. We humans are a regular goat rodeo on a good day. Wrangling us into some kind of order? I cannot even fathom. Thank goodness God is merciful. In my home we’ve gone from chore charts to texting chores and reminders as one of the ways I try to impose some order on our days. I keep a family calendar with the ridiculous number of activities and events all logged in. It is a moving target. Often I miss things and am unaware of something I was supposed to know or do. Getting my arms and my head around the daily life we lead is near impossible.
One of the things that I cherish about our way of worship is the liturgical year, the order we try to impose so we can pay attention to the life of Jesus. That may sound horribly dry and boring. But it’s true. I love this way of ordering our days so we know what we are supposed to be doing when we show up. But it also much more than that, it is a perpetual way to show up and meet Jesus again anew.
As I kid who grew up as an acolyte, I knew that we had different colors we use during different times of the year or for different services. And I sort of understood what they meant. White for Easter, baptisms and funerals. Purple for Advent and Lent. Green for most of the year. But that was about it.
Seeing the hymn board read the 24th Sunday after Pentecost or Epiphany 5 or Easter 4 meant about as much to me as any one of the equations in my high school physics textbook. Those equations continue to be a mystery to me, but the circle of the church year makes much more sense. It is a way to tell time, God’s time, sacred time. Time that is never lost.
Rather than a linear way of telling time the liturgical year follows in a circle beginning with the 4 weeks of Advent when we prepare for Christmas. The linens are purple or blue. Colors that are supposed to spark us to remember we are preparing for something, anticipating something. It is a joyful waiting time, but one that calls us to pay attention to God acting amongst us.
The Season of Epiphany follows and for 6 Sundays we hear the stories of how Jesus grew from an infant into a full grown man. (As the mother of teenagers this short six week window seems an especially brutal abridgement of time. And I really could use some Gospel stories about Jesus being a teenager and how Mary and Joseph navigated that.) During Epiphany we use the color green to call to mind the growth of the Jesus.
From Epiphany we move into the 6 weeks of Lent when we are preparing for the great mystery of Easter. The color most often associated with Lent is purple. While Advent is a time for more joyful preparation, Lent is a solemn season. A time set aside to remember that we are but dust. A time to turn away from the devices and desires that keep us from God.
And then thankfully after Lent there is the great celebration of Easter. The color of Easter is white, our fanciest color. We use white for the biggest of days in our lives. The days that mark endings and beginnings – baptisms, weddings and funerals. We are called to celebrate Easter for 6 weeks. But, this celebrating is sadly kind of lost in our modern calendars. Usually during the months of April and May at my house are flying through the blur of spring sports and end of the year school activities. This is a time I’d like to work on being more intentional about.
For 50 days after Easter we celebrate the resurrection and then comes the Day of Pentecost. It is the day we pull out the red hangings for church recalling the fire of the Holy Spirit coming down amongst us. The birthday of the Church it is often called.
And then comes the long season. It has a really a ridiculously uncreative name, The Season After Pentecost. But that is where we find ourselves today right at the end of the Season after Pentecost. The last Sunday of the liturgical year, or Christ the King Sunday. And here we are with white hangings. The ending of the church year the beginning of the new year.
When I teach the liturgical year to kids I often begin with a piece of string or ribbon. I hold it up. We talk about the string looking like a line or a road or a snake sometimes. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. A start and finish point. A perfect representation of the linear progression of chronological time. This is the way we typically think about time in our lives. But then I tie the ends together and make a big circle. The beginning and ending are tied together. They cannot be separated. I explain that this is how it is with God’s time, beginnings and endings are tied together, inseparable. Because God’s time is not linear time. It is so much bigger than that. We heard in the reading from Colossians today… Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together. In him all things hold together. Through Jesus we see just how tied together beginnings and endings are being part of God’s creation. As creatures who are beloved.
But in our Gospel story today things do not necessarily seem to be holding together. Things most definitely seem to be falling apart. If this is Christ the King Sunday exactly how is this our best example of Jesus as King? Jesus is at Calvary, hanging on a cross between two criminals. He is being mocked and derided by the crowd, by the soldiers and by one of the criminals beside him. The Gospel even notes the sign placed above him. King of the Jews.
But this is a story that shows us God’s holy time. Jesus is tying the endings and beginnings together.
Jesus, on the cross. Holding it all together. Showing us just how unbreakable the love of God for his creation is. And the two criminals they are like a mirror for me. I know the cynicism of the mocking criminal. Prove it to me. You are in charge of this show? Fix it, make it right. And I know the humility and awe of the criminal whose eyes and heart allow him to see the unbelievable love of God in Jesus. Begging him to let me be nearer to him. Jesus holds all the times I act like the mocking criminal and the times that I am able to for a moment live into the love I am heir to. And this happens over and over again. My endings and beginnings are all tied in Jesus.
So the liturgical calendar has pointed the way for me again with this day. At the close of this liturgical year, after I have been walked through Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection and teachings I am reminded that at the end of it all there is Jesus who ties it all together for me. The King of Love whose goodness fails us never. The one who holds the world together on the cross and the one who continues to do so today. He is the one who holds this whole mess together through his willingness to love.
So although my own family calendar, or pirate agenda, may be a long line of events stringing toward the next activity, we have been given also a way to live into God’s never ending time. As the psalm says we can BE STILL and know God. And in being still in that wonder it is possible to feel the whirl of the liturgical wheel. To know that our endings and beginnings are all tied up on the love of God, in the love of Jesus who came among us to show us just how holy this whole goat rodeo really is. And we can like the hymn sing, Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee. Even eternity’s too short to extol thee.