Introduction to the Journey
This is the last Sunday of our church year — next Sunday, Advent begins, and with it, a new year. So, here on the “hinge” of our year, is a good time to pause and consider the big picture of how it flows. We have stations encircling the sanctuary, one for each major festival and season of the year, decked out with its predominant color. The scripture and sermon time today is a journey through these seasons. Aaron and I will invite the kids and any interested adults to come and walk with us. There are scriptures to read and things to do at each station, as well as a hymn to sing.
The Church Year, part 1, led by Jane McBride
The church year, with its fasts and feasts, colors and moods, fascinates me. It matters to me. It really matters to me. I’ve been asking myself why, trying to find words to express its pull on my spirit. I have been a runner for most of my life – I’m glad to be back to it this fall after a few years of dealing with a knee injury. One of the reasons I run is to spend time outside, even, and perhaps especially, when it is hot and humid or icy cold. I need to be immersed in the narrative of the budding branches and the brittle dead leaves, the choppy grey river and the luminous smooth river, the frozen grass and the spring mud.
There are destructive stories out there in the world, and in here, inside our own hearts, vying for our attention. Time is money. There’s no time for the slow, simple joys of community, for rest and play. Resources are scarce. There’s not enough to go around. Be ruthlessly self sufficient. Violence may be required to get your share and protect what you have. Consume. Buy. Consume. Don’t be vulnerable. Find some way to numb your pain, and to avoid looking at the world’s pain.
The year of the church, on the other hand, immerses us in a different narrative. Its circular sweep of festivals and seasons offers an alternative story. Time is holy. Our time is for being with God, who first comes to be with us. Our time is for hearing God’s voice call us beloved. for being born anew in the waters, for responding to a call, a purpose. Our time is for following Jesus into the heart of our suffering, the cross. And it is for bearing witness to God’s power of resurrection which meets us there.
Psalm 130: “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 end of one world and the beginning of a new one. John the Baptist proclaims the coming of God’s Messiah, whose role it is to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, and to set in motion this new reality. 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 (let kids help) Let’s sing our Advent hymn: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Luke 2: 10-12: “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 Saviour, 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 (light it) 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? (lay cloths and place Jesus in the cradle) Christmas is a very short season – it is 12 days long – that’s where the song comes from. How could your household celebrate Christmas for 12 whole days? Let’s sing our Christmas hymn: Silent Night.
Luke 3: 21-22 “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.’”
Mark 1: 16-17 “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 30, is baptized, begins his public ministry and gathers his followers. 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 I will say the words. “Remember that you are God’s beloved child and you are called to ministry in Christ’s name.” The color of the season of Epiphany is green – it is also sometimes called Ordinary Time. Let’s sing our Epiphany song: You Have Come down to the Lake Shore.
Mark 1: 12-13 “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 actually means to turn around and go a different direction. It means letting God change our lives, through spiritual practices and disciplines. 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. Let’s sing our Lenten song: O God How We Have Wandered.
Journey through the Church Year, part 2, led by Aaron Lauer
John 19:17-18 “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 is the seven days before Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ final week. It starts with Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Next is Maundy Thursday, the day we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, where he washed their feet (pour water into a bowl) and broke bread and drank wine with them, which we celebrate in our time as Communion. Good Friday commemorates Jesus death on the cross (hold up cross), a day where we mourn his suffering and the violence in the world. The final day of Holy Week is Holy Saturday, the day when Jesus’ body is wrapped in cloth and laid in the tomb, where we wait for the joy of Easter. During Holy Week, our church colors change from purple to black. We do not observe Holy Week alone. Just like the disciples, gathering in the upper room, praying with Jesus in the garden, and mourning after his death and burial, we come together as a community, relying on one another in our moments of pain and sorrow. Let’s sing our holy week hymn: Were You There?
Luke 24:1-5 “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.”
Easter Sunday is our day of celebration, when Jesus rises from the tomb. Our colors change from black to white, celebrating the new life Jesus brings when he appears to the women in the garden and later the disciples. We commemorate this day with a sunrise service, a big breakfast, and shouting “Alleluia!” at the top of our lungs (say Alleluia together). But Easter is more than just one Sunday; it’s a whole season, 50 days long, when we recognize the coming of spring, hope for creation, and new life in the church and the world. Easter is a season of celebration and joy, but it is also a season of challenge. The themes of the season call to us today, to recognize the life around us in the midst of death, like Mary recognized Jesus in the garden. To see Jesus in the faces of those around us, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. And to trust in the radical, resurrection love of God, as Jesus shows Thomas his pierced hands and side his living, breathing body. Let’s sing our Easter hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today.
Acts 2:1-4: “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.”
Pentecost marks the day when the Holy Spirit came down like fire from heaven to the disciples after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. (give each child a flame to wear). The church colors change from white to fiery red. Pentecost always falls on the fiftieth day after Easter, and in fact, that is what Pentecost means, 50. The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the formal beginning of the church after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and is often known as the Birthday of the Church. That first Pentecost was a day of witnessing to the Holy Spirit, often represented as a dove, the beginning of the church’s work in the world, and the inclusion of all people into God’s kingdom. During the weeks of this season, we the church contemplate our work in the world, how we can be more loving and inclusive, and what God’s reign looks like in the here and now. Let’s sing our Pentecost hymn: Spirit of Gentleness.
James 2:14-17: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Another name for the season after Pentecost is Ordinary Time. This doesn’t mean ordinary as in boring or plain, but following an order. How do we as a church live out the gospel from day to day, Sunday to Sunday? Now that the Spirit has descended upon us and we have become the church, what is our mission in the world? The colors of the church change from red to green, as our work moves out into God’s creation. This season lasts through summer and fall, a time when many churches wind down their activities within their walls, and move out into a more full presence in the world, through summer day camps, volunteer projects, and camping trips. It is our opportunity to be the church in the world, serving all of God’s creation. I am the vine you are the branches? Let’s sing our Ordinary Time hymn: Take My Life and Let it Be.
Conclusion of the Journey
So now we’ve reached the end of our journey. From the hope and waiting of Advent, to the joy and celebration of Easter, to the work of the church in the world during ordinary time. The seasons of the church year blend together the stories of our faith like a beautiful chorale. Each season with its own symbols, colors, themes, Bible stories, hymns, and messages. Each season harmonizing with the rest, individual voices of the church year, composing one big, beautiful calendar. And as we immerse ourselves in each season, as we take on the practices, sing the songs, remember the stories, and are dazzled by the colors, we are called to a new way of living, a new focus each time a page of the calendar turns. In a fast paced culture of immediacy, we are asked to wait and hope. In an age of greed and want, we are challenged to give things up. And in a world that wants us to only think of ourselves, we are called to work for the common good. As we end this church year and begin a new one, may we become more intentional, more responding, to the call of each season. May we hear each season’s voice and the larger chorus of the church year, as the voices of God calling us to a new way of being.