by Rev. Heath Curtis
Most religions are quite spiritual. They are about teachings, thoughts, philosophies. They are misty and magical and otherworldly. Not so Christianity. Our faith is earthly, tangible; you can sink your teeth into it. The God we know created mankind from the dust of the ground and then stepped Himself into Mary’s womb and became flesh and dwelt among us.
In other words, Christianity is a story–a real, down-to-earth history of God saving humanity. Of course, there are plenty of miracles along the way, plenty of spiritual teachings, but these are never separated from physical creation and its history. So more than any man-made religion, Christianity is about time and space. Jesus came to save us in Bethlehem while Quirinius was governor of Syria under Emperor Augustus; He died and was raised again in the time of Pontius Pilate.
The church’s job is to recount this history of God saving humanity, to tell a story. Stories are about time; a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. History is ordered: First this happened, then that.
Telling this story of salvation is a huge task. As Jesus said, the church is to teach “All that I have commanded you.” In one sense, the whole story is contained in things like the creed and the Lord’s Supper, which either summarize or deliver the entire salvation story. But the church’s preaching must explain that story further and in detail.
Now, the church could have decided to try to unpack and elaborate this whole story during each and every time of worship. But that would make for some pretty long Divine Services! So instead, from the very earliest days of the church, Christians have lived by the rhythm of the liturgical year and its accompanying series of Scripture readings, which is called the lectionary. The Church Year and the lectionary give shape, form and order to the church’s telling of the story of Jesus.
In most Protestant churches in America, you will find sermon series on one topic or another instead of on the Church Year. The pastor decides what the congregation needs or wants to learn about, and then he chooses Bible stories and crafts sermons based on that. When a friend of mine was extolling the benefits of such sermon series I replied, “We Lutherans have a sermon series too. It’s about Jesus, and it’s called the Church Year!”
The Church Year tells the story of Jesus in several different ways, all of which interact with each other and support one another. First and foremost there is the fact that Christians meet for worship on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7), that is, Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Each Sunday is a proclamation of the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the death.
But then there is another layer: The church does not merely say Jesus is raised; the church tells the history of how that happened with the first half of the Church Year. This begins with Advent, four weeks before Christmas, and focuses us on the Old Testament promises of the coming of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ promises to return again.
Then Christmas comes, and Jesus arrives in Bethlehem. Then Epiphany (Jan. 6) arrives with Jesus revealing Himself as Savior to the Gentiles. Then we begin our walk with Jesus to the cross in Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and finally Easter.
After that, the Church Year carries us along with the disciples through the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of God. And then Pentecost comes–seven weeks after Easter-–when the Spirit empowered the apostles to preach the Good News to the elect of all nations.
In the second half of the Church Year, the Sundays after Pentecost, the focus shifts from the biography of Jesus to His teachings and miracles. Thus a balance is struck. In the Church Year and lectionary, we walk with Jesus through His life, death and resurrection each year as well as studying His words and deeds.
Finally, superimposed over all of this is the calendar of the saints–those sinners whom God has washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb and who stand out for us as examples of the faith. With St. Nicholas (Dec. 6), St. Martin (Nov. 11), the blessed Virgin Mary (Aug. 15), St. Laurence (Aug. 10) and many others, we see how the blessings of God might shine in us and receive hope and encouragement for our daily struggles.
In this way, in a never-ending cycle, the church proclaims the story of salvation until that story comes to end (and a new beginning!) on the Last Day.
> On Sept. 14, 1528, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther began a sermon series on the Catechism, sermons that would become the basis for his Small and Large Catechisms.
About the Author: The Rev. Heath Curtis is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, Ill., and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Ill.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AT CPH.ORG
God Grant It
by C. F. W. Walther
Beginning with the first week of Advent, God Grant It provides a lectionary-based daily devotion placing particular significance on the Church Year. Through these classic sermons of C. F. W. Walther the reader will be reminded that God’s mercies are new every day, that His mercies are ours by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ordering Our Days in His Peace
by Heath Curtis
Discover the life and work of Jesus and the church through the times of the Church Year, which not only orders our days, but also teaches us the fundamental narratives of salvation’s story. The author walks the reader through the three main sections of the Church Year: the Time of Christmas, the Time of Easter, and the Time of the Church.
Treasury of Daily Prayer
Cultivate a devotional life with a book that enriches your time with God. This comprehensive Lutheran resource brings together Scripture readings, prayers, Psalms, hymns and devotional readings from the church fathers to guide daily prayer and meditation on God’s Word. Organized around the Christian Church Year, Treasury of Daily Prayer is designed to be an all-in-one resource for daily devotions for individuals, families and small groups.