As this year’s Passion and Easter season has come and gone, the present author has been struck by an observation first arrived upon during this past Advent and Christmas season. As one who has spent most of his life in the “low-church” Evangelical/Protestant tradition, I have increasingly been made aware of how anti-climatic and in a sense, disappointing many churches are in regards to important dates and celebrations in the church calendar. For example, in some churches that still practice the four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Day arrives, and then its over. Perhaps the following Sunday may contain some relevant music (if in close proximity), and some of the decorations remain, but all of the anticipation and preparation abruptly ends. The same is true for the Easter season. After Palm Sunday, one may be fortunate to attend a Good Friday service, and then an appropriately exuberant Easter service. After this however, many of the Evangelical/Protestant churches simply abandon the church calendar until the next Christmas.
While some that do this may have an actual philosophy, most I believe are simply ignorant of the benefits of the traditional church calendar, sometimes due to an unfortunate “high-church” prejudice (something I call liturgaphobia). For example, in the “high-church,” Christmas is the beginning of a twelve day celebration (as the popular carol alludes), with the 26th being the celebration of the first Christian martyr (Stephen), and ending with Epiphany (the visit of the wise-men). In Bach’s time (18th century), Easter was actually a three-day celebration, which is of course proceeded by the 40 days of Lent (symbolic of Christ’s fasting in the desert). However, the calendar doesn’t end here, as there are 6 different Sundays that have significance, followed by “Whit Sunday,” to mark when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and the Church was founded. Trinity Sunday follows this, and short of some minor days, the calendar then looks to Advent again.
While I am not advocating some sort of absolutely rigid adherence, it seems fairly obvious that using such a calendar as an educational and community-building tool is highly beneficial. Not only does it promote Christian unity among different groups that may have theological differences, but keeps the Christian’s mind on “things above,” and is a possible counter to “Sunday Christians” and those who only show up for two services a year. Adherence or adaptation to the church calendar need not contain some of the medieval Roman Catholic ideas, but can be highly beneficial, especially in today’s age.
When many church leaders lament the fact that many younger Christians in particular lack a Christian worldview, and the Christian community seems to be increasingly schismatic, such a tool as the calendar could be highly restorative. Some evangelicals who complain about this have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. When a local church abandons its cultural and historical heritage, is it any wonder that there is a certain lack of identity? When the church abandons its music, art, architecture, calendar, and even its name (what in the world is a “Faith Center”?!?!) in the name of being friendly, is it any wonder there is a lack of community and relevance? I welcome any comments and observations on this issue, as it clearly is part of a much larger trend in the modern church.