Sunday being Pentecost Sunday marked the last of church "festivals" that have stretched back to Advent and Christmas. I was brought up Pentecostal, so low Church that we could have have limbo danced under the prayer book. The Church Year was from what I remember growing up about Christmas and a wee bit of Easter, ironically I don't think Pentecost was ever celebrated. As I have grown older, or more as I prefer to think of it, more mature, I have had a growing appreciation of the church year. I don't go overboard on it and follow the Lectionary all year however I am pretty committed to following, thinking about and "celebrating" the main events of the Church Year and not just for traditions sake either.
Its so easy to see Advent, Christmas, Lent, Maundy Thursday / Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost as almost "self contained" events, some being more important than others, namely those which involve presents and chocolate. The reason I have come to be committed to the main festivals is that when taken together they help us understand Jesus, who He is and the entirety of His mission and so in turn help us understand the mission of the Church with greater clarity and I think greater inspiration. For those who want to develop a "missional" expressions of Church or faith, which is shaped by God's Mission, I reckon following the Church Year is particularly important.
I am pretty committed to Frost and Hirsch's idea that we develop a missional ecclesiology in this way
CHRISTOLOGY —> MISSIOLOGY —> ECCLESIOLOGY
I have discovered that focusing on Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Advent in a connected way help me focus annually, deliberately and deeply on Christology & missiology and so helps me think with greater clarity about ecclesiology.
Below is a blog post from last year which I have tweaked slightly to show how following the Church year helps us reflect on, and so hopefully be inspired to action by, Jesus’ life and mission in our individual and congregational life and mission.
I have been rereading a book that veteran evangelical Anglican preacher John Stott wrote in the early 90s called THE CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN. I have been surprised that despite being published 18 years ago just how contemporary this book really is. In it Stott deals with subjects like, hermeneutics, the nature of discipleship and church ministry which have become hot topics since he wrote the book.
Its the whole final section of the book on the Mission of the Church which has impressed me most and in particular Chp 21 on “The Christology of Mission.” In this chapter I think Stott does a great job of drawing out the missional implications of Christology. I thought I would reproduce his main points for you.
* THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST (Christmas) = The Model For Mission … “He sends us into the world, as the Father sent him into the world. In other words, our mission is modelled on his. Indeed, all authentic mission is incarnational mission. It demands identification without loss of identity. It means entering other people’s words, as he entered ours, though without compromising our Christian convictions, values or standards.” p358
* THE CROSS OF CHRIST (Lent / Good Friday) = The Cost of Mission … “This call to death and suffering, as the condition for mission fruitfulness, sounds very alien, however, in our contemporary western ears. The respectable middle class captivity of the church is not exactly the arena for persecution. Where is the willingness to suffer for Christ today? In the evangelical tendency to triumphalism there is little place for tribulation.” p363
* THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST (Easter) = The Mandate for Mission … “The universal mission of the church derives its legitimacy from the universal Lordship of Christ. In this way the resurrection supplies the mandate for mission” p 366
* THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST (Ascension) = The Incentive for Mission … ” Consequent upon his elevation or exaltation to the highest place, God desires every knee to bow before him and every tongue to confess his Lordship. The repeated “every” is absolute, it admits of no exception. If God has given this supreme honour to Jesus and desires everybody else to honour him, then the people of God should share his desire.” p 367
* THE SPIRIT GIFT OF CHRIST (Pentecost) = The Power for Mission … “Only the Holy Spirit of God can take words spoken in human weakness and carry them home with power to the mind, conscience and will of the hearers. Only He can open the eyes of the blind to see the truth as it is in Jesus, unstop the ears of the deaf to hear his voice, and loosen the tongues of the dumb to confess he is Lord. The Holy Spirit is the chief witness, without His witness, ours is futile.” p371
* THE PAROUSIA OF CHRIST (Advent) = The Urgency of Mission … ” To live work and witness in conscious anticipation of Christ’s parousia and judgement is a wholesome stimulus to faithfulness. Scripture bids us remember that, from God’s perspective, the time is short, the need is great and the task is urgent.” p373
“If only we could gain a fresh and compelling vision of Jesus Christ, incarnate and crucified, risen and reigning, bestowing the Spirit and coming again. Then we would have the clarity of purpose and strength of motive, the courage, the authority, the power and the passion for world evangelisation in our time” p 375
To me the Church Year helps us as indviduals and as a church do exactly what John Stott describes in that quote above.