We're mere weeks away from our second Hanging of the Greens service, so today I wanted to talk about the Christian calendar. For centuries the Church as a whole has divided the year into specific seasons based on major days of worship. Most denominations follow those seasons and use them to help plan worship and other events.
Our own Hanging of the Greens, for example, will always fall on the first Sunday of Advent, the Christian "new year's day." Advent lasts four Sundays until Christmas and begins the Christian calendar year. It is a time of preparation, both for the birth of the Christ Child and for the return of the risen Lord Jesus. Advent ends at midnight Christmas Day. Christmastide, as we call the next season, goes on for twelve days (you knew the song had to come from somewhere), ending on Epiphany -- Old Christmas, the day the Wise Men came and presented their gifts.
After Epiphany is a brief spell of what we call Ordinary Time -- ordinary because nothing special is going on. This ends on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent lasts for forty days to commemorate the forty-day long fast of Jesus in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Therefore it, too, involves significant fasting and prayer. Various denominations treat the end of Lent differently, but we all mark the big days of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Easter has always been the jewel of the church calendar, the original and greatest Christian holiday (holy-day). Eastertide marks the next fifty days, ending on Pentecost (literally the fiftieth day), the day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in Acts 2 -- the birthday of the Church. From there, another season of Ordinary Time carries us to the next new year, beginning as always on the first Sunday of Advent.
While not everyone follows the Christian calendar, most in the world do, and while it's not found in the pages of the New Testament, it remains a helpful way to observe worship. That so many churches follow it provides a sense of Christian unity, too: if everyone is celebrating the same day or the same season, then, in a way, we are worshiping God together. We may not keep the entire calendar at RSCC, but as we look towards Advent and Christmas, I hope you'll think about our brothers and sisters around the world marking the same days and worshiping with us, even though we're thousands of miles apart. To me, that's a little glimpse of what heaven will be: all people, all at worship.