Living in Time with the Rhythm of the Church's Year, Oct 2008
by Graham Kings
Date added: 31/07/2020
Living in Time with the Rhythm of the Church's Year
by Graham Kings
republished, with permission, from The Times (Credo column) 11 October 2008
Rhythm is the longest English word without a vowel — though it has to be admitted that “y” acts as a sort of vowel. It is also basic to our enjoyment in life. We breathe, walk and swim rhythmically, usually without noticing it. We appreciate music, poetry and drama. We become more balanced in our quality of life when rhythms develop naturally.
A man of wisdom once wrote: “Hurry is actually a form of violence exercised upon God’s time in order to make it ‘my time’.” (Donald Nicholl, Holiness.) In reordering our lives in moments of turmoil, it may be worth considering the rhythm of a year, rather than just of a day or a month. Imagine the year ahead of you. What comes to mind? When does that year begin? Whose year is it? An intriguing question is how do you make God smile? One answer may be that you tell Him your plans.
God sees farther and wider than you see, knows you better than you know yourself and loves you more than you have ever been loved.
The year ahead for you belongs to God. It is His and He gives it to you, to your family and friends, to your community and to the world. It is not worth cramping its imagining or ignoring its rhythm.
The rhythm of the year which has been kept for centuries by the Church across the world may have something to offer you. How about imagining your year fitting in with the Church’s year? Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Pentecost and Trinity (where we are now) provide the major seasons. The “in-between times”, sometimes called “ordinary time”, are also integrally important and furnish the balance of the year.
Advent Sunday, which falls on November 30 this year, is four Sundays before Christmas Day. Still some time to go, so plenty of time to plan ahead. The season is full of waiting expectancy. It looks forward to both the dramatic summing-up of history, when everything is wrapped up and re-created, and leads into the season of Christmas, which celebrates the subtle and subversive arrival of a baby, whose life is in fact the secret centre of the Universe.
Epiphany, meaning “manifestation”, begins on January 6 with the celebration of the Wise Men arriving at Bethlehem to give gifts to the infant Christ. They come from the East and are not Jewish. It ends on February 2 with the presentation of Christ at the Temple by his parents. The prophecy that the baby will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, as well as glory for God’s people Israel, provides a theme for the season of sharing the good news with all people.
The word Lent in English comes from the “lengthening” of the hours of daylight. The season emanated from the preparation of people for baptism in the early Church, when Easter was the time for baptism, and the theme is of penitence.
Passiontide provides a focus on the Cross on Good Friday, where the terrifying, addictive tyranny of sin is absorbed by a unique broken body. At Easter, we celebrate death being destroyed from the inside, by the explosion of the Resurrection of Christ.
Pentecost begins on the Sunday which is 50 days after Easter. The name comes from the Jewish festival of the wheat harvest, when the giving of the Law to Moses was also remembered. The coming of the Holy Spirit with a cacophony of praise, and a burst of mission, is enjoyed and enjoined.
Trinity Sunday, a week later, is when we remember that God is not so much incoherent as co-inherent. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit interweave with each other. They are braided together. The interweaving of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the very shape of God. But this shape is also outgoing and, in a sense, centrifugal, spiralling outwards. God, in His very being, is missionary.
It may be helpful, in thinking through adopting the rhythm of the Church’s year, to link each of these seasons with a dynamic participle. How about beginning, being, sharing, suffering, dying, rising, living and identifying?
Another wise saying of Donald Nicholl’s concerns the importance of “doing the next right thing”. Too often, though, this wry, anonymous rhyme rings true: “Procrastination is my sin; it brings me greatest sorrow; I really must stop doing it; I think I’ll start tomorrow.”
In adapting your year to a new and ancient rhythm, perhaps you could transfigure that rhyme into: “Now, no procrastination, delay; later is now, tomorrow today”?
The Rev Canon Dr Graham Kings is Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Islington, and author of Signs and Seasons: a guide for your Christian journey (Canterbury Press, £9.99; www.signsandseasons.co.uk)