I have finally succeeded in making a perpetual Church Year Calendar.See the picture below) I can move a piece of the cardboard rim behind a slot, to make sure that the Sundays of Epiphany, and the Sundays after Pentecost have the right numbers, given the changing date of Easter! I’m wrapt!
So the other day a person from the congregation, in highlighting some of the differences between my approach to Christianity and theirs said ‘It was all very nice to see your group making Church Year Calendars, but….’ The ‘But’ implied that they did not share my enthusiasm for the Church Year Calendar. This prompted me to offer an explanation as to why this is important to me.
In general terms, a calendar determines ‘what reality’ we are in. Everyone who wanted to have an influence over the ‘reality’ of the lives of others, made the calendar fit these realities.
Starting from the Jews, we can see that their festivals are agricultural, lunar festivals. They were probably borrowed from the fertility gods of the surrounding peoples, when they migrated into the ‘Promised Land’. But these festivals of the Jews are not meant to be fertility markers, but markers of God’s mighty act in bringing the people from slavery to freedom. That is their reality. Time is not forever cyclic, where nothing new can ever really happen. No, time is subject to the absolute freedom of the God who ‘will be what he will be’. Time under the God of Abraham and Moses is a line. It gives us the possibility of the genuinely new. That is the reality of our God and this is a different kind of time that requires different festivals.
Since Jesus, the beginning of the counting of time has been, for Christians, marked by his birth. This says that since the birth of Jesus, everything has changed so much that even the counting of years has to start again.
But this is contested. Even today in some circles the naming of the years has changed from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, in the Year of our Lord), to BCE and CE meaning before and after the Common Era (which we share with the Jews). But the Muslims, the Buddhists have their own numbering systems and their own new year times based on their desire to say that time itself is changed by the arrival of their god, or prophet or teacher.
The keeping of time forms a community of those who are immersed in that reality and what is ‘real’ is by no means clear, or uncontested.
So for me to say that what is ‘real’ is the beginning of the Year in Advent, and that the weeks are marked off by Sundays serves to heighten my identity as Christian, and helps the reality of Christ to be the determiner of my life. That is why I spend time making a calendar.
In the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters to the Corinthians, both Luke and Paul refer to time in Church year terms. Luke says ‘Paul was eager to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost’ (Acts 20:16) and Paul says “I will stay in Ephesus till Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:8).” To anyone outside the Christian community (except perhaps for Jews) this would not mean much in terms of a date. But to those who were formed by Christian thinking, then the date of Pentecost would be known and the reasons for marking the time would have been understandable.
This is why I find my calendar helpful. It does not have dates on it, but has the Sundays. So I can say ‘Come on the Wednesday after Trinity Sunday’. This way of speaking expresses an identity which is being formed in Christian ways.
The same is true of marking the beginning of the year as Advent Sunday. The Church has had several ‘New Years’, one was the Annunciation (25th March) and another was the Feast of the Circumcision (1st January), but now we keep the Fast of Advent, in preparation for the coming of Christ. It is lovely to begin the Year saying ‘Come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee’. That is what I want to be true for me. That is what I say all through the year, and the way that I want to begin the year.
The other thing that is important for me is that the community to which I belong is not just a community of people still living, but a community of all the Saints. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’ (Heb. 12:1).The creed says that we believe in the communion of Saints. That is saying the same thing. The lives of all who have been Christians before us are not lost to us, but available to us. I find great encouragement each day, reading about who has done what, and why we remember them. This is how I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. This keeping of the memory of the Saints also forms me as a Christian because it gives me a picture of what that might look like. It gives me a sense of continuity with my Christian past, and locate my own struggle within the story of the struggle of others.
In these times, when the church is fading, I think it is important to re-highlight our identity as Christians. We can no longer afford to be ‘society at prayer’ because society does not care much any more for Jesus, and doesn’t pray much either. But if we are going to keep the light of Christ burning, then we will need to find ways of giving expression to our peculiar identity.
My principle of life as a Christian comes form the Epistle to the Romans 12:2 where St. Paul urges us ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you might know what the will of God is.’ Having a different calendar is an identity shaping tool that aids in this process of transformation.
This can also be said in the words of the hymn ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’ whose fifth verse says ‘Crown him the lord of years, the potentate of time’. If Christ is the potentate of time, ought not this be expressed in our keeping of time?