Pastor, Why Do You Care So Much About the Church Calendar and Lectionary? You’re a Baptist.

In an Advent sermon last year, I named that I believe that the first word of Advent, on the tongues of the prophets, is “Repent.” Turn around. Change course. Make an intentional decision to live a better life, both for your sake and for God’s sake in the world. I also talked a little about the connection between Advent and Lent, Christmas and Easter.

This morning, I enjoyed a discussion with some Episcopalians. It’s clear to me that they are much more liturgically meticulous than Zach Bay the Baptist pastor. That said, for those interested in how I think of Advent and Lent—and why I think they are important for Christians—here’s some of what I said as I talked with the good Rectors:

As a liturgically freewheeling Baptist, I may be among the less orthodox in this discussion. I like to play with the juxtaposition, however imperfect it is (because Advent and Lent are siblings, not twins), that four Sundays of Advent walk us up to the twelve days of Christmastide as six Sundays of Lent walk us up to the fifty days of Easter. Christmas is glorious, but not as much so as Easter, and our use of time itself reflects that. Christmas is clear and bold, but not as clear and bold as Easter. The Light grows in Advent, and fades in Lent. The murkiness of Tenebrae shadows is there in both, pushed back by the candle lights Advent, and finally allowed have its moment of triumph near the end of Lent on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But, the good news? Easter’s coming.

 

I might add—and again, I’m riffing a la midrash more than interpreting the letter of liturgical law here—that with regard to Advent and Christmastide having or not having a counterpart to the Triduum [three holy days spanning from the evening of of Maundy Thursday through the evening of Easter Sunday], Advent’s shorter and less clear and bold and glorious version of its big sibling’s tradition could maybe be the Christmas Eve-Christmas Day feasts. Even Christmas Day doesn’t vanquish the shadows—it enters in and dwells among them them as Emmanuel enters into the world and dwells among us. The destination is Easter; and it is foreshadowed at this important waypoint that is Advent and Christmas.

For those of you who hung with me through all of that, thank you. It’s important to me. I believe with all my heart that it matters a great deal how we spend the mere 52 Sundays and handful of additional holy days (Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc.) that we are gifted each year. I like to use them to flow from Advent’s anticipation to Christmas’ incarnation, from Lent’s preparation to Easter’s salvation, and on through Pentecost to the story of the Holy Spirit birthing Christ’s Church into the world. At First Baptist Church, in keeping with the large and long tradition of Christians throughout the ages and down through the centuries, we use our 52+ hours together each year to tell and retell “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” And that’s about as Baptist as it gets.