by Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar
The vocabulary of the church is filled with big words, large and meaningful words that sum up a great quantity of theological content. There are words like redemption and sanctification, words like liturgy and sacramental and words like propitiation and atonement. These great words may well need some reflection and study before we can begin to comprehend and appreciate them fully.
Each one of these words used by the church has a sense of power to it; all of them enrich our lives of faith and the knowledge of God. Big, powerful words have meaning and import. But so also do the little words of the church.
One set of little words that has a great deal of meaning and power is the trio of prepositions that is included in the names of the Sundays of the Church Year. In, of and after: those are the three special directional words that we use in the week-by-week experience of our lives together in the church.
The Church Year begins with the Sundays in Advent. When a Sunday is in a season it is within that season–but not completely. It retains a special quality that the rest of the days of the season do not have. That is especially true in Lent, a season in which the Sundays are not numbered among the forty days of Lent because the weekly celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Sunday predominates in establishing the central theme of the worship. There are indeed Sundays in Lent, but they are not of Lent.
Just the opposite is true in the season that follows Lent. The season of Easter has seven Sundays of Easter. Each one is just as meaningful and celebratory as the first of them on Easter Day itself. Each is a Sunday of rejoicing at the resurrection of our Lord.
The majority of Sundays in the Church Year, however, are governed by the mighty little word after. Early in the Church Year, we have Sundays after Christmas. Near the start of the calendar year, we observe the Sundays after the Epiphany of our Lord. And later in the year, we have numerous Sundays after Pentecost, the season currently being observed in the church.
Sundays after a given day in the life of the church refer us back to that special day, such as the birth of Christ at Christmas, the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus at Epiphany and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost. Being aware of the mighty little word that is part of the name of a given Sunday in the life of the church can help us shape our worship in a positive way that day.
Although it is important to know the big words of the church, keeping a special focus on the mighty little words like in, of and after can be meaningful and rewarding as well.
> See Lutheran Service Book (pages x—xi) for a complete list of the Sundays and seasons of the Church Year.
> On Sept. 20, 1869, the LCMS founded Concordia Publishing House.
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar is pastor emeritus of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.