Friday, September 12, 2014

The march of time. . .

The liturgy long ago marked not only the seasons of piety but of life.  Through the rhythms of the church year, God's time was not simply a calendar of salvation history played out over the secular calendar and recreated in the festival half of the church year, it was the pivotal reality that shaped all of time.  God's time stamped the realm of the largely agricultural economy as well.

Just as the church bell's call to prayer ordered the day and night (absent the constant reality of clock and watch), so did the season fo the church year mark and order the livelihoods of a rural economy.  At Candlemas the farmer's tools and beasts of burden were readied and blessed as winter was nearing its end.  On or about St,. John's Day, the winter crop was harvested.  St. Michael's Day the fields were burned and animals that could not afford to be bed through the winter were slaughtered and their meat laid up for winter by smoking and salting.  Winter was a quiet season with most of life's attention focused upon keeping warm and fed until the whole cycle of life started all over again.

In contrast, we are most aware of and comfortable within the framework of a secular calendar with the seasons and rhythm of life dictated by shopping seasons, holidays (in contrast to holy days), work schedules, and school calendars.  It seems too much for us to also keep up with a calendar so arcane and irrelevant to our daily lives as the church year.  So Advent means nothing to us except Christmas is about here.  Christmas finds us tired of the whole darn thing and ready to get over it as quickly as possible.  Epiphany lives in the shadow of the New Year celebrations, MLK day, the Superbowl, and winter sports.  Lent always seems to come too quickly and we are unprepared to give up anything -- not even the extra time for worship, devotion, and almsgiving that once marked the season.  Easter has long ago been transcended by Spring Break which, unlike Easter, is a designated time on the calendar and does not float to some obscure dating system nobody in the world cares about.  Pentecost comes too often near Memorial Day for it to have any real identity and it suffers from a moving date conditional upon Easter.  By that time summer is upon us and the Church is the last thing on our minds and lists of things to do.  The Fall is taken up with the start of school and the end of summer, with Labor Day and Columbus Day, with Halloween and Thanksgiving.

So there we are.  The advance of the industrial age and the mass move into urban areas (and their suburban sprawl) has left the Church and its timing as confusing, confounding, and crazy as new math to our old lives.  The truth is that many churches have given up and now order their calendar by the secular seasons and holidays except for an obvious nod to Christmas and Easter.  Other churches seem intent to impose an antiquated and in cohesive calendar upon people just because they can.  What is lost in all of this is the whole idea of God's time -- not the pulsing chronos of the ticking clock or the seasons of our mood but the fullness of time, the moment pregnant with God's activity and grace in which He discloses Himself, His kingdom, and the grace of redemption.  We do not insist upon the church year because we are curmudgeons who stubbornly refuse to concede.  We insist upon the church year because there is where we encounter in larger form the rhythm of God to us and back to Him that is in smaller shape in the Divine Service. 

God's time is our time -- not as the imposition of a law or commandment but as the gift of grace.  Hidden in time and late in time by all our measures of urgency, God is here in flesh and blood to live, to suffer, to die, and to rise again.  This is the pulse that beats through the church year.  We do not march to the beat of a different drum because we independent people.  We march to the beat of life that his here in this present moment with the fullness of time and grace.  This is what we call our people to know and what we pray shapes our daily lives.  We are a people already in the presence of the God of our salvation and yet we are moving to the outcome which we already know but for now but anticipate in worship and calendar.

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