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The Calendars We Live By

The Calendars We Live By

The Bishop's Blog

We are upon the Thanksgiving Holiday, and I wish each of you a joyous and meaningful time with family.   In the liturgical calendar last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, the culmination of the church year.  If you follow the United Methodist Hymnal, it moves from the promised coming of Jesus, his birth and baptism, at the beginning (the 200s) to a new heaven and a new earth (the 700s), where we will be in the Reign of God.

It is a time of year that includes a confluence of festivities -- some sacred, others civic. And it is true that most of us live by several calendars that overlap.

A prominent calendar in our culture is the rhythm of athletic seasons. Some of us live from the opening day of baseball to the first kickoff of football to the midnight madness of college basketball, then to the baseball World Series, and then the college bowl games, the NFL Super Bowl and March Madness, and then the opening pitch is thrown again, and the Master’s. 

Many organize their lives around their favorite teams. Psyches flourish or falter alongside the fortunes of their heroes. There are sacred spaces (Fenway Park and Cameron Indoor Stadium are but two examples), secret societies (betting services, fantasy football), and remembrances of shared history (for example, the remarkable Ken Burns PBS series on Baseball). It is not unimportant that parents pass the importance of the sports calendar along to their children.

A second calendar is our civic calendar. This includes New Year's Day, a time for making resolutions for reinvention. There is Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and the recently added Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

The civic holidays may elicit deep memories of loss and sacrifice in some families, while others consider them simply as a respite from work and school. Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer and Labor Day its conclusion, and what happens in between (vacations, leisure, longer days, and a break from school) is more significant for most that what occurs on the particular holidays that frame the season. 

Thanksgiving is an especially ambiguous ritual, since it began as a harvest festival and most of us now live at some distance from the profession of agriculture. It has also become closely associated with the onset of Christmas commerce in general and "Black Friday" in particular.  And indeed Christmas music is now beginning to seep into our lives weeks before the Thanksgiving feast.

A third calendar, for a Christian, is the liturgical year. It is a way of marking time according to the life of Jesus, beginning with the anticipation of his coming (Advent), the celebration of his birth (Christmas), and manifestation of his presence in the world (Epiphany) and his baptism. The most frequently told stories about Jesus (his baptism, changing water into wine at a wedding, and his transfiguration) introduce us to his glory, but also prepare us for his suffering. 

In the season of Lent, the followers of Jesus enter into his suffering, and on Palm/Passion Sunday witness his entry into Jerusalem, the place of his final testing and, ultimately, his death on a cross for humanity (Good Friday). After three days God raises him from death on Easter. Over the next fifty days he teaches the disciples about God's purposes for the world, and on Ascension Day he returns to be with God, preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. 

The Sundays after Pentecost move into Ordinary Time, finding their climax on Christ the King Sunday, which signifies the fulfillment of God's purposes on earth and in heaven, as Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Then we quickly move to the first Sunday of Advent.  And in a mystical sense these days have a way of bringing all of this together, as Paul writes in Colossians 1, in the three comings of Christ: his first coming, in history, his second coming, in our own personal experience, and the third coming, when, after going to prepare a place for us, he returns to take us into himself.

We live in each of these calendars and each shapes our lives.  One of the great invitations for us, as disciples, is to recover the thickness of the Christian story and the adventure of the life of Jesus.  And this helps us, as individuals and as families,  to narrate our passage through time, infusing it with greater meaning, and to discover a way of marking time that is worthy of our engagement.