As Christians, we all celebrate particular days as holy. Most of us go a step further to recognize distinct seasons of worship, following the Christian/liturgical calendar. In theory, this keeps us unified as s single body of Christ while remaining distinct congregations; even while separated in time and space, we come together as a collective to offer praise and worship to our God in common ways.
In practice, however, things somehow get muddied a bit. Special events such as homecomings and revivals tend to shove the liturgical calendar sideways as they demand more and more preparation and planning – not to mention actual observance. Pastors can feel pressured to keep up with the demands of their parishioners as well as the necessities of marking Christian time.
Right now, for example, the Church just finished Lent and moved through Holy Week into Eastertide, and that meant pulling double-duty (or triple-duty, or quadruple-duty depending on how many services your church hosts: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc.). In my own place of ministry, I had to organize the children’s palm processional, take confessions of faith by the children going through the baptism classes I taught, portray Jesus in a Maundy Thursday drama (since no one else wanted to play the Christ), attend a twenty-four hour prayer vigil for Good Friday, and serve breakfast before participating in worship Easter Sunday – and that was just the extras on top of my usual classes, Bible studies, curriculum writing, sermonizing, committee meetings, and hospital visits. (My congregation is also in the midst of planning a mission trip and a large community outreach event.)
It may seem like a lot (and it is), but to put that in perspective, many pastors will do substantially more than I did, and it’s considered perfectly normal for the season. Balancing the day-to-day life of pastoral ministry while keeping up with the extras imposed by the liturgical year can be a struggle indeed.
The Christian calendar isn’t always a harsh taskmaster, however. It also allows for times of refreshment and rest, such as the long days in Ordinary Time. Pentecost itself is a joy in my current congregation, and we go out of our way to make it a time of celebration without much in the way of added programming. At times, the calendar gives us a chance for fun and laughter without which you wouldn’t experience: an orange pulpit robe worn on Pentecost by a pastor who swears it’s red; a years-long tug-of-war between a pastor and a former children’s minister about when to light the Christ candle in Advent, manifested in puppet shows; and the joy of a child’s laughter when she wonders aloud how the shortest pastor on staff is going to keep both of them afloat in the baptistery Easter morning. Our adherence to marked seasons of worship gives us added strain at times, yes, but it also gives us joy, laughter, and rest. All the while, we remain conscious of our connections to other congregations experiencing the same festivals and seasons we are, and we feel closer to each other because of it.
It’s true that the calendar isn’t found in the pages of Scripture, and some in ministry would discount it entirely simply for that fact. (One Southern Baptist colleague of mine recently made the claim he was “giving up extra-biblical human practices for Lent.”) The Bible may not tell us how to reckon the date for Easter or prescribe the exact order in which to light the candles of the Advent wreath, but it does serve as the basis for the way we observe our liturgical seasons. Each season bears us along the life of Jesus Christ: in Advent, his imminent return; Christmas, his birth; Lent, his temptation and suffering; in Easter, his resurrection and the hope of our own; and Ordinary Time, the rest of his life and ministry.
When we decry the liturgical year as some overly-Roman Catholic artificial contrivance, we lose sight of what it truly is—a way to organize our days to help us along the path of holiness. We live alongside the life of Christ so that we may become more Christ-like. What’s more, we seek sanctification through community, realizing we cannot truly practice our faith in a vacuum. The Christian calendar unites us as a worshiping community, and as a community of faith we move forward along the road which leads us to the one whose name we bear.