Monday, February 10, 2014

Ordering the Order. . .

Former LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick wrote in his blog a year ago or so (yeah, I am that far behind):

During my days in office I had hoped to be able to visit with the pope, primarily to enlist his assistance in persuading the Christian Church to establish a fixed Sunday of the year for Easter, the first Sunday in April.

I must admit that it is a strange thing to be lamented -- he and the Pope never got to talk about changing the date of Easter!  Who would have thought this was high on the list of the things that a Lutheran leader and the Pope might discuss in their search for commonality and perhaps even unity!  That said, the whole idea of moving Easter is, while practically desirable, seriously destructive to the order inherent in the Church Year (yes, there is an order to the Church Year).

I guess for some it is just inconvenient that the beginning of Advent does not coincide with the first Sunday in December or that Epiphany is not always on a Sunday but January 6 or Easter falls early, late, or in between... etc...  Some would even suggest that the dating of the sanctoral cycle of the church calendar is arbitrary but the truth is just the opposite. The dates of the Church Year are in no way random. They have deep historical roots, theological order, and significance. The Church Year is not simply an attempt to order time but becomes a teaching tool designed to reinforce the doctrinal teachings of the Church as well as cover a body of knowledge from Scripture.

The most obvious order in the Church Year is found in the dating of the Ascension.  It falls forty days after Easter with clear deference to salvation history. Forty is the time of waiting from the Old Testament to the New. You can move the Ascension to a Sunday but it obscures this tie and further distorts the date of Pentecost (fifty days after Easter).

Epiphany is the Twelfth Day celebration, the end of the Christmas Season and the bridge to the fuller season also named Epiphany.  Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are a common cycle.  To reorder the calendar to move Epiphany to a specific Sunday is to disconnect the Church Year even further from its own history and to lose the ancient idea of Christmas as a twelve day season and not merely an Eve and Day.

Reformation and All Saints suffer the same problem -- they fall on a date instead of a Sunday.  Perhaps both are overshadowed by the Halloween but how do you correct that without turning both days into a season instead of a feast day?  Sadly, for all intents and purposes this has already been done to the point that people no longer understand where All Hallow's Eve came from because Reformation has become the last Sunday in October and All Saints the first Sunday in November.  Would that it were not necessary to transfer days but sometimes it is a must.  At least let this be acknowledged as a break from the orderly order of the Church Year and not an attempt to organize ourselves to death.

Truth to be told, Advent might better begin in September in order to mirror the secular calendar but the Church purposefully gives the end of the season of ordinary time (Sundays after Pentecost) its proper due with its focus upon the end times and judgment.  The keepers of the calendar have already almost obliterated this focus with the introduction of Christ the King Sunday and the three year lectionary's experimentation with themes and pericopes.  Even so, the connection between the end times, Christ's return in judgment, and the harvest is still kept within the Church's calendar.

Yes, it would be easier to keep the calendar if some of these dates were set relative to a specific Sunday of the month but doing so would make the church's calendar more arbitrary and less orderly with respect to content.  The three year lectionary, for all its good purpose, has resulted in more confusion over the Church Year and a greater distance between the Church Year and the ordinary calender of the person or family.  No, it might be nice and all but it is not worth the trouble and confusion to the calendar as a whole.
The problem is that we not only seek to order the Church Year to better fit our organizational sense, we have already done so by eliminating nearly service opportunity outside of Sunday -- instead of scheduling more, we actually hold fewer services than previous generations.  It is no wonder people think of the Church Year as some mystery.  We have cut and pasted our Church Year nearly into oblivion -- it is largely a disorderly order even to those who would like to observe it.  This is not good and this is no time to be thinking about shuffling the calendar around again.


Unknown said...

Kischnick must have held (and probably still does) a very lofty opinion of himself if he thinks that he could actually pull this off!

The calendar is fine. Only idiots like Kieschnick (how you guys in the LCMS elected this moron for 3 straight terms is incredible) think that the Church Calendar is antiquated relic. It is the life of Christ condensed into one year. Besides, this whole issue of the dating of Easter was already solved by the 1st ecumenical Council in Nicaea which Lutherans claim to accept because its canons were "in accord with Scripture."

Keep producing more Kieschnicks and the LCMS will look more and more Baptist every single year. GOd help you.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am ever so grateful that Kieschnick and the Pope never had that discussion. Talk about a desire to meddle!

Every element of the Kalendar - Easter, Christmass, Saints days, etc. - is in a particular place for a definite reason. The fact that most may have forgotten, or never knew, the reason, does not invalidate the reason. The desire to tinker with the Kalendar reflects our focus on ourselves, and our lack of connection to the Christian heritage.

This tinkering is evident even in Pastor Peter's own remarks when he speaks of "the season of ordinary time (Sundays after Pentecost)." This reflects the mischief brought about by VC II, in which the season of Trinitytide is co-mingled with various other parts of the Church Year (such as the 'Gesima Sundays) into a hodge-podge called "ordinary time." The year was much better ordered and more descriptive when these were given their own distinctive names.

There is absolutely no need to "improve" on the Kalendar. It is only a reflection of the obsession with self and self-concerns that drives this.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Pastor Peters said...

Lest there be confusion, I used ordinary time simply as a moniker for the non-festival half of the church year and not for other parts of the church year, hence my parenthesis (Sundays after Pentecost). I am quite aware of the other usage but was contrasting here festival and non-festival cycles.