Thursday, March 17, 2011
Christians Need Rhythm
Some ways of life have a distinctive rhythm.
For example, think of a school. One thing I miss about my former career as a college professor is the rhythm of the school year, a rhythm that is dictated by the academic calendar. The first day of class in the fall semester brings with it the excitement of new beginnings and new challenges; the mid-term brings with it the opportunity for evaluation, reflection, and recommitment, the fall break and the Thanksgiving break bring with them some much-needed rest; final exams bring with them the thrill and anxiety that accompany an ending. The spring semester brings a similar rhythm.
Or think, for another example, of major league baseball. Pitchers and catchers report on a set day in February followed soon by the position players. For a couple of weeks the beginning rituals of workouts and practices take place until around March 1 the first Spring Training games take place. Around the end of March teams break camp and head to the city where they will open their regular season. The All-Star Break marks the mid-point of the season and then comes the trade deadline and the end of the regular season. The post-season, culminating in the World Series, brings a last blast of excitement followed by the inevitable letdown so that as fall gives way to winter we fans are looking toward the day when pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona. Baseball, then, has a rhythm, too—a rhythm dictated by its calendar.
The rhythm of the lives of Americans, such as it is, is dictated by the secular and civic calendars or, to put it perhaps more accurately and honestly, the commercial calendar. We move from New Year’s Day (Parties! Football!) to Valentine’s Day (Love! And be sure to buy something!) to Easter (Bunnies! Egg Hunts! And be sure to buy baskets and candy!) to Independence Day (Fireworks! Cookouts!) to Halloween (Trick or Treat! And be sure to buy lots of candy!) to Thanksgiving (Food! Football! Let the Christmas shopping begin!) to Christmas (Santa Claus! Presents! Let the Christmas bills roll in and the gift returns commence and while you’re returning stuff be sure to buy more stuff!).
Christians are to live a different kind of life; we need to find a rhythm different than that dictated by the calendar of the materialistic, hedonistic, shallow and bordering on insane culture in which we find ourselves. We need rhythm but it needs to be a different kind of rhythm than that which the world gives.
I am utterly convinced that Christians need the rhythm produced by following the Christian calendar.
There are many good reasons for churches to follow the Christian calendar. (Some of my readers will have trouble understanding why I feel a need to make this case, given that they worship in traditions in which following the Christian calendar is a longstanding and accepted practice; the reason is that for most churches in the Baptist tradition in which I worship and serve, as well as in many other churches in the free church and/or evangelical traditions, the practice if not the very concept is foreign.)
One reason that churches should follow the Christian calendar is that the practice reminds us of what our lives are really all about. The Christian year takes us from the anticipation of Advent to the celebration of Christmas to the revelation of Epiphany to the repentance of Lent to the seeming defeat of Good Friday to the stunning victory of Easter to the equipping power of Pentecost to the long stretch after Pentecost that reminds us of the importance of faithfully putting one foot in front of the other and trusting God all the way; our lives, in short, are all about following the way of Jesus.
A second reason that churches should follow the Christian calendar is that the practice provides a framework for the development of a disciplined Christian lifestyle. It offers a constant reminder that our life is a pilgrimage in which we are always following Jesus and learning of and from him and being formed and shaped by him.
A third reason that churches should follow the Christian calendar is that the practice gives us an opportunity to offer a helpful Christian witness to our culture. For example, think of the message we would send if, while those around us are caught up in the frenzy of holiday shopping, we were to embrace the four-week season of Advent through appropriate practices of worship and other spiritual disciplines such as fasting, sharing, and serving. Think of the witness we would offer if, while those around us are suffering from post-holiday letdown and mall fatigue, we were to embrace the twelve-day celebration of Christmas through an appropriate focus through worship and other disciplines on the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation event.
When you put those three reasons together you can, I hope, see the value in giving ourselves over to the rhythm of the Christian year. If our churches will intentionally allow the Christian year to provide the narrative framework for our worship and practice we will over the course of time help those who worship and serve through our churches to develop and live out a helpful Christian rhythm in their daily lives of discipleship (provided that they intentionally embrace the practice).
If we learn to feel and to follow that rhythm in our worship in the sanctuary and in our homes, we will over time begin to feel and to follow it in our service in the world. Imagine how our lives, our churches, and our communities will change if more and more Christians begin to live their lives with the same rhythm with which Jesus Christ lived his--a rhythm of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, obedience, faithfulness, service, and sacrifice.