Posted by: Philip Rushton | May 25, 2010

Why The Liturgical Calendar is Cool Again

As I grew up in the evangelical church I was not exposed to the ‘church calendar.’ Sure we celebrated Easter and Christmas, but other then those two main events there was little attention paid to the liturgical year. In fact, the first time I even heard about the season of Lent was after I had been a part of the church for 10 years. And even then it wasn’t really explained to me. My pastor said something about not drinking Pepsi for 40 days until Easter because it was Lent.

However, in the broader Christian tradition the whole year is structured around the major events in the life of Jesus and the early church. Along with Christmas and Easter, there are celebrations of Lent, Epiphany, Pentecost and so on. The reason I’m bringing up the topic this week is because this past Sunday was “Pentecost Sunday.”

There has been a growing interest in reclaiming this rich liturgy among younger evangelicals like myself. This trend is documented well in Robert E. Webber’s book, The Younger Evangelicals. Webber argues that the evangelicals in my generation are seeking something deeper. While the baby boomers reacted against the sort of wooden, formal religion of their parents, my generation is reacting against what my one professor likes to label, “neon evangelicalism.” Indeed, evangelicalism did become a bit ‘neon’ in previous decades as it tried to market itself to the popular North American culture. We used the tools of mass marketing to simplify and commodify Christianity. Some have argued that this caused Christianity to lose some of it’s depth and substance. As a result there is a current interest among many evangelicals is to try and reclaim the depth of the Christian tradition so that we have something substantial to offer our spiritually hungry world.

The renewed interest in liturgy is one of the ways evangelicals are seeking to deepen their spiritual life. What I appreciate about the liturgical calendar is that it challenges us to form our year around the story of salvation, rather than around sports seasons, school semesters, or work schedules. This can act as somewhat of a safeguard in our hectic lives. It makes sure we remember the key events of salvation in any given year. Furthermore, it keeps the church accountable to teaching the whole story of salvation. As a former worship pastor I know that it is easy to get into ruts and to focus on a very small portion of the biblical story.

It was helpful for me to be reminded of the important event of Pentecost this past Sunday. Pentecost is the event in Acts chapter 2, where the Holy Spirit is poured out on the early church. This is such a central event in the Christian story because it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the church is able to fulfill it’s mission in the world. The story of Pentecost reminds us that Christ is with us, equipping us and empowering us to live a life of love. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5 that we, “live by the Spirit.” He tells us that as we live by the spirit we bear the fruit of the spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

The current rhythm of my own life right now is one of impatience, anxiety, and disappointment. Thanks to the liturgical calendar I was drawn back into the story of scripture on Sunday. I was reminded again that we are not alone, that God’s Spirit is with us equipping us to live a life of fullness!!

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Responses

  1. Amen Bro, Preach it!My heart cries out for a return to some structure in our corporate and personal worhip lives. the calendar can do that for us but it is a tricky journey. One mis step and we drop off into dead rituals. Remind me to tell you about the ethnic Pentecost Associations in the part of California that compose my roots…….. Paz en Cristo…………..

  2. Hey Gil,

    You raise a good point by saying “one mis step and we drop off into dead rituals.” I think you are right. It s powerful, though, when ancient ritual is infused with the presence of God’s spirit. When I lived in Vancouver I went to a high anglican church where I experienced this coming together of the depth of liturgy with the living God.

    As with all discussions on worship I think we need to respect diversity and humble ourselves enough to allow others to worship in different ways. I recognize that for some people the prospect of having a high liturgy brings back negative memories.

    One of the reaons why I think discussions on worship are so intense and controversial is because worship is where we encounter God. Different people associate different styles of worship with a connection to God and they want to protect those profound experiences.

  3. Phil,
    When I hear the word liturgy, my initial thought is to run away. I guess maybe it’s because of what Gil said about “dead rituals” and not wanting to be tied to rituals. As I came to faith, my experience was one of spontaneity, valuing an experience with Jesus, and the emotion and feeling of that experience.
    But in that experience, I’m sure I’ve missed a richness and depth that goes beyond experience and feeling. Often what should be unifying (corporate worship) is the most dividing because we claim our experience as being the most correct and all others as inferior.

  4. I have misspoke, again;….Structure is not the goal. But to bring meaning to worship is the goal. Perhaps this is the work of the Holy
    spirit. Iv’e experienced God at the National Cathedral (DC) as well as sitting on the floor with someone playing a guitar. It is not the style, maybe our attitude.

  5. Thanks Randy,

    I appreciate your perspective. In many ways I can connect with your experience as well. My faith has been nurtured by a lot of more spontaneous and unstructured worship settings. Like Gil I can point to a variety of experiences.

    Also I have not sustained a long period of high liturgy in my life. The church I went to in Vancouver was for a very short time and so I suspect that it is still at the “new and interesting” stage for me.

    Like you say, though, we need to find ways to communicate unity as a body in our worship.

  6. I think Gil is totally right; a lot changes depending on our attitudes when approaching worship and I have found that a more carefully crafted, intentional worship service gives me a better chance to truly turn towards God. A peppy song may do it for me when I already am in a good mood, but sometimes that isn’t the case. Then what? The song “I could sing of your love forever” makes me feel pretty hypocritical when I’m yawning at the outset of the service. :S I need the pattern of confession before celebration because the joy of salvation comes in recognizing my brokenness.


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