A calendar is a system used to organize social, religious, commercial, and administrative events in our human lives. Calendars helps us to plan events, to reflect on the events that we have planned, and to mark the ever changing seasons and conditions of life. While Americans are most familiar with the Gregorian Calendar and while this calendar has become the standard calendar throughout the world there are many other calendars that are used.
In the West and in those traditions that have stemmed from Western Christianity the Gregorian Calendar is used. In the religious communities of Orthodox Christianity the Julian Calendar is used. Ethopian Christians use the Ethiopian Calendar. The Hebrew people continue to follow their lunar Hebrew Calendar while Muslim people follow the Islamic Calendar. The country of Iran uses the Persian Calendar while China and the peoples of Asia use the Chinese Calendar. Futher south in Asia the people use the Buddhist Calendar. There are many calendars and many ways to mark the passing of time.
In the Episcopal Church, along with the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Church, we use a second calendar called the Liturgical Calendar. While the Gregorian Calendar begins on the first day of the first month of the year, the liturgical calendar begins with the prophesy of Jesus' birth and ends with the proclomation of His Second Coming and Kingship. Our calendar is centered around the birth, life, death, ressurection, and return of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Gregorian Calendar is separated into months while the liturgical calendar is separated into seasons which has been given its own distinct color to represent it.
The Season of Advent
The first season of the liturgical year is Advent. The word 'advent' comes from the Latin word 'adventus' which means 'arrival' or 'coming'. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and it is a time for us to reflect upon the coming birth of Jesus Christ and what that means for the world and for ourselves. But this is not all, Advent is also a time for us to reflect upon the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of this age. We believe that Jesus will return to Earth as He promised and make all things right. Many of the Scripture readings during this season are about Jesus' return and so we take time to prepare ourselves for this return whenever it may be.
Many churches display an Advent Wreath during this time. The Advent Wreath is a circle of four colored candles (usually three purple and one pink) and one white candle in the middle. Sometimes the wreath is encircled with a garland of evergreens (hence the name wreath) but not always. Every Sunday of Advent a candle is lit in the wreath drawing us closer to Christmas Day when the center white candle is lit, the Christ candle.
The Season of Advent has two colors associated with it. The first is purple to signify the royalty and majesty of Jesus. Purple has long been associated with royalty since its dyes used to be so expensive that only royalty could afford it and it also is the color of penance. The second color, and perhaps the one seen most often, is blue. The color blue has been traditionally seen as the color of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Season of Christmas
On December 25th the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, also known as Christmas Day. On this day we celebrate the culmination of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah at the birth of God into the world as Jesus Christ. On this day the Christmas Season begins.
On January 1st, while most people celebrate New Years Day, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke chapter 2 verse 21 states that on the eight day of life Jesus was taken to the Holy Temple and presented to the priests as was the Jewish custom. On this day Jesus was circumcised, a tradition still held by many Jews on the eighth day of a boys life, and He was named Jesus. Both Joseph and the Virgin Mary had been instructed to name their new son Jesus.
The Christmas Season continues on until January 5th. The color associated with Christmas is white, as are all feasts dealing directly with Christ, and this represents the purity and glory of God.
The Season of Epiphany
On January 6th the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. On this day we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to Bethlehem who brought to Jesus the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Up until now the visitors to see the Baby Jesus were Jewish shepherds and possibly some curious onlookers but the wise men were not Jews, they were Gentiles. So, at their coming we celebrate the witness of Jesus to the Gentiles and mark the day for which God's salvation was proclaimed to all people.
On the first Sunday after January 6th we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the day when we recall Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. As Jesus came up out of the river the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and God said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17)." At this Jesus Christ's Earthly ministry to us began.
The liturgical color for the Feast of Epiphany and the Feast of the Baptism is white but the color for the remainder of the Epiphany Season in green. Green is the color of growth and life and it reminds us that as Christians we must continually grow towards God through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship.
The Season of Epiphany can last from as little as 4 Sundays to as many as 9 Sundays depending upon when Easter falls in that year.
The Season of Lent
Since early times the Church has celebrated a season of fasting and penitence for 40 days before Easter. This is called the Season of Lent and during Lent you will find many Christians abstaining from certain foods or practices or by going to their local church daily for prayer and devotion. This is a time when we recognize our sinfulness and look towards the coming Crucifixion of our Lord which leads gloriously to His Resurrection.
The Season of Lent is 40 days long, modeled after the 40 days and nights Jesus spent inthe wilderness after His baptism. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. On this day Christians around the world come to a special service where ashes are put on their head or hand in the sign of the cross. This action reminds us that God formed us from the dust and one day we will all return to it. Along with this it is a reminder that we are sinners and not worthy of Heaven but as we look to the Cross we know that Jesus has secured our salvation.
The Season of Lent lasts for 40 days, not counting Sundays, and the last week of Lent is often referred to as Holy Week. We call it Holy Week because we recall Jesus' last week on Earth and all the events that happend during that week. Throughout Lent and Holy Week the liturgical color is purple which is the sign of royalty and penance.
On Sunday of Holy Week we celebrate the Triumphal Entry when Jesus comes into Jersualem riding a donkey and being hailed as a king. Something which the religious and political leaders didn't care for. For the next three days we remember Jesus' teachings in the Holy Temple and around Jerusalem.
On Thursday, which we call Maundy Thursday ('maundy' coming from the Latin word 'mandatum' which means 'mandate'), is the day we come together to celebrate the Last Supper. During Jesus' last supper on Earth He washed His disciples' feet and commanded us to do the same as a reminder that we are servants in this world. He also established the Holy Eucharist by telling His disciples that the bread was now His body broken for us and the wine was His blood shed for us, and for asking us to continue to observe this feast in rememberance of Him. That day we also remember that Jesus was betraye by His disciples Judas Iscariot and was arrested by the authorities.
Friday of Holy Week, called Good Friday, Christians all over the world remember that Jesus was sentenced to death by Roman governor Pontius Pilate and was crucified along with two thieves outside of Jerusalem. Jesus died that day but His death secured for us God's forgiveness of all our sins hence the days name, Good Friday. The liturgical color for this day is black which represents death and mourning.
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting as we, like the disciples, await the next step.
The Season of Easter
That next step comes on the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, also known as Easter. Easter is the highest and holiest day of Christianity because on it we celebrate not only the rising from the dead of Jesus but also of the accomplishment of our salvation. Since Jesus is risen then Sin and Death no longer have power over us.
Forty Days after Easter we celebrate Ascension Day when our Lord Jesus took His disciples up to a hill, blessed them, and ascended back into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God and become Lord of His Church. The color of Easter is white reflecting the majesty, glory, and purity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ.
The Season of Pentecost
Ten days after the Acension, which is fifty days after the Resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples to fill them and strengthen them in their new vocation as preachers of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This happened on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, when God gave Moses the Law on Mt. Sinai, and so we celebrate it also as the day when Christ gave the Holy Spirit to His Church. We often refer to the Feast of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church for that is when the Word of Christ began to spread by His disciples.
The color for Pentecost is red which symbolizes, fire, passion, and the Holy Spirit. While the day of Pentecost is red the season which it gets its name from is green. Pentecost lasts for at most 29 weeks but it is not a time to lay around and twiddle our thumbs for the green reminds us to continue to grow in our Christian faith and our service to Almighty God.
The last day of Pentecost is called Christ the King Sunday and it is the day the Church celebrates the kingship of Jesus Christ and His ultimate return to make all things new and perfect. The color for this day is white.
After Christ the King Sunday the season of Advent begins anew and the Christian Church Liturgical Year begins again. The Church year is not linear nor is it cyclical but it is like a spiral staircase that draws us ever closer to the Throne Room of God.