Welcome to our journey through the church year. Our Jewish roots emphasize the holiness of time. The weekly Sabbath is a kind of sanctuary in time, created by God, for humanity and the earth. The Sabbath day is time set aside for something different, something more, than work, worry and commerce. The Sabbath is a time of renewal that renews all our times. Similarly, the church year, with its circling seasons and festivals, colors and symbols, provides us with a way of living out this spiritual inheritance. It helps us to recognize the holiness of all time. In Greek, there are two words for time: chronos, or clock time, and kairos, or God’s time, the critical moment, the moment of action or decision. In every season, the church year invites us to ground our chronos in God’s kairos, to live our stories in light of the sacred story of our faith. So Daniel and I invite the children and anyone else who would like a closer look today to come along with us. At each station, we will have something interesting to do. Of course, the rest of you can follow along from your seats.
We begin with the season of Advent. From the Psalms:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Advent is a time of waiting, preparing and hoping. Its color is blue. The prophets dream about the birth of a child and the birth of a new world. Churches and households create Advent wreaths. We light one candle for each of the four weeks of Advent. Amid the night of our world’s pain, the light slowly grows. Let’s light the candles now, and sing our Advent hymn. (O Come, O Come Emmanuel).
Now to Christmas. From the Gospel of Luke:
But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
On Christmas, we light the Christ candle. Our colors switch to white and gold. We welcome God to live with us in the form of a tiny baby. We call this mystery the “incarnation,” that is, God’s taking flesh. Will you help lay some cloths in the cradle to make a warm, safe space for the baby Jesus? (Place Jesus in the cradle.) Now we will sing our Christmas hymn, Silent Night.
Epiphany is next. A reading from Luke:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Epiphany is the season of light. It begins with the festival of Epiphany, which tells the story of the wise ones who followed the star. After that, we suddenly jump ahead in time, and Jesus, at around the age of thirty, is baptized, begins his public ministry and gathers his followers. The color of the season of Epiphany is green. During Epiphany, we remember that through baptism, God names us beloved and calls and equips us each for ministry. Let’s take a moment to remember that now. Come and touch the water and we will sing our Epiphany song, You Have Come down to the Lake Shore.
Lent is next. A reading from Mark: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, we receive the sign of the cross on our forehead or hand. Would you like to see the ashes? They are made of burned palm branches from last Palm Sunday. Would you like to touch them? During Lent, we follow Jesus into the wilderness where he experienced temptation. We remember our sin, the ways we have become far away from God. We remember death and the cross. We hide our Alelluias! until Easter comes. Lent is a time for repentance, but that does not mean we spend the whole time feeling sorry and sad. Repentance means to turn around and go a different direction. It means letting God change our lives. Some people give something up for Lent. Others take something new on. Either way, Lent is a time to get ready for the joy of Easter. Now we’ll sing our Lenten song, Dust and Ashes Touch Our Face.
Holy Week is next. From Luke:
Then Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
Holy Week begins a week before Easter, on Palm Sunday, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, while crowds greet him with cries of “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus’ last supper. Maundy comes from the Latin word for commandment. On this night before his death, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: love and serve one another and the world. He washed their feet and told them to wash the feet of others. He gave them the meal of communion (the bread and the cup) as a way to to continue to experience his presence even after he was gone. Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ death. It is a day when we grieve the violence and injustice in our world, and remember that through the worst of our pain, God suffers with us. On Holy Saturday, Jesus’ body is wrapped in cloth and laid in the tomb, and we wait for Easter morning to come. As we sing, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, we will place black pieces of cloth over the cross to show the sadness of Holy Week.
Next is Easter. The Gospel of Luke says:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
On Easter Sunday, our colors change again to white and gold—colors of joy and wonder. We celebrate that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that God continues to bring life out of death for each of us and for the whole world. Some people think that Jesus was alive again in the body, while others think he was alive in a powerful way in the disciples’ hearts. Easter is more than just a day; is a season of fifty days. There is a special word of praise we say on Easter (after not saying it at all during Lent). Let’s see how loud we can shout Alleluia together. Our hymn, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, has plenty of Alleluias.
Next is Pentecost. Here’s a reading from Acts:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
On Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, Jesus had departed from the earth, but God sent the Holy Spirit to guide, inspire, and accompany the disciples. This moment is considered the birthday of the church. The Holy Spirit, described as wind and fire, is a powerful, unpredictable, and liberating force in our lives. Fiery red is the color of this festival and of other festive times in the life of the church, such as ordinations. Now we will light candles—birthday candles, Holy Spirit candles—and sing Sweet, Sweet Spirit.
Next is Ordinary Time. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” The season after Pentecost is called Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is the longest season of the church year, stretching all the way from late May or early June until December, and the beginning of Advent. (Technically the season after Epiphany is also part of ordinary time.) Ordinary Time isn’t ordinary in the sense of boring and plain. Ordinary comes from the word “ordinal” which means “numbered.” During Ordinary Time, we live out our faith as disciples of Jesus, from one day to the next. The color is green—we could call this our “green and growing time.” Now we’ll eat some fruit and enjoy the gifts of Ordinary Time. We close our journey with the hymn, “For the Fruit of All Creation.”