Pastoral Perspectives

The Christian Calendar

We have been following the Christian Calendar for a number of years now. The calendar traces the life and ministry of Christ Jesus within a year. This spiritual discipline is not just about looking back at what had already taken place. It also has much present day relevance. Observing the church seasons is one way we can inhabit the redemptive Story of God. As we recall afresh the significance of each season, we allow the Spirit to draw us into the story, shape our discipleship, and affect the way we live sanctified lives before God, for our good, and for His pleasure and glory.   

We are at the start of the Church Calendar again. How can recalling afresh the first coming of Jesus shape our discipleship? How does allowing ourselves to be drawn into the Christmas story help to affect the way we live our lives? Christ’s first coming some 2 000 years ago fulfilled the prophecies from of old and since we worship a God who is immutable (he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow) he too will be faithful in fulfilling the prophesies he has made concerning Christ’s second coming. In the fullness of time, Christ’s first advent came to pass. As we remember and celebrate that event, we too can look in anticipation toward his second advent which, again in the fullness of time, will surely come to pass. If we have that kind of eager expectancy, we will live our lives very differently.

As we celebrate Advent, let us remember Jesus’ first coming as a baby in the manger and as our Saviour on the cross, and let our hearts be filled with joy for the undeserving gift of life that he has extended to us. As Advent points forward to another Advent, may this joy permeate our lives, through all our ups and downs, as we anticipate Jesus’ second coming as the just Judge who will right all wrongs and as the eternal King who will reign over the new heavens and the new earth.

After the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas day, we enter into the season of Epiphany. The term “epiphany” means to “show” or “reveal”. We remember the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child. They were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as “King” and so were the first to “show” or “reveal” Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ.

The focus of Epiphany is on the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry where He revealed the glory of God to the world through His life, His teachings and His marvellous works. Jesus says: “If you see me you will see my Father.” As Christ’s body, the Church, we have been given the mandate to continue Christ’s ministry in revealing God’s glory to the world in the way we conduct ourselves, in the love we extend to one another and in the zeal with which we share the Gospel.

While Advent commemorates the coming of Christ and Epiphany the manifestation of Christ, Lent prepares us for the death and resurrection of Christ. The season of Lent is a time for us to deliberately remember and respond to the sacrificial death of Christ. It is a time for us to reflect on our own offence – a frighteningly evil heart, mixed motives, hypocrisy, unforgiveness, revenge, lust, envy, greed, pride – what wretchedness, what depravity! Yet we are overwhelmed by God’s mercies, overwhelmed by the cost of our pardon, our forgiveness, our freedom, the cost borne on the cross – how undeserving, how privileged! The season of Lent is marked by a deepening realism about the cost of discipleship – what it means to follow Christ. As we take the journey towards the cross, let us deny ourselves, take up our own crosses daily and follow our Saviour and Lord.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the last week of Lent, the week when we commemorate Jesus’ final agonising journey to the cross. Palm Sunday remembers Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with crowds waving palm branches and proclaiming him as the Messiah. On the coming Thursday, we remember the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples and His betrayal by Judas. On Good Friday, we remember the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we enter into Holy Week, may the stark truth that God died for man grip our hearts and in turn cause us to stand in awe and wonder of His amazing grace.

On Easter, we celebrate Christ rising from the dead. Christ’s resurrection forms the central event of Christian history. The resurrection is the most spectacular of all the biblical miracles and from a human perspective the most incredible of Christianity’s claims. Without this reversal of the shame of the cross, Christ’s death would have atoned for nothing – we will still remain in our sins. But Christ has risen! His resurrection therefore guarantees our own resurrection. But even now, in our discipleship, we too can experience resurrection power in overcoming temptations and in living lives that are being transformed. On Easter, we celebrate life, life abundant and life eternal.

Pentecost is dedicated to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Christ, ten days after Christ ascended into heaven. It is the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who illumines our minds that we may understand the Word of God, convicts our hearts that we may respond to the saving grace of God, surrounds us with warmth and comfort that we may experience the peace of God, gives us courage and strength that we may do the work of God, and increases our faith that we may live and worship unto the glory of God.

Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost. It also marks the start of Ordinary Time. Trinity Sunday commemorates and honours the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity can never be completely understood, but it is clearly taught in Scripture. We understand all scriptural doctrines by faith which comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is appropriate that this mystery is celebrated the first Sunday after Pentecost, when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit first occurred. On Trinity Sunday, the Christian Church ponders with joy and thanksgiving what the Triune God has done to accomplish the salvation of sinful humanity. In response to the love God has shown us, we praise Him and give Him glory.

If the extraordinary event of Pentecost points the way – immersion of the Spirit & empowerment of the early church for mission – then shouldn’t our call to discipleship likewise be extraordinary? In the pouring out of ourselves for Christ, we find ourselves energised by his love and joy. This happens in our everyday lives, indeed, during the commonplace days of our year. This is discipleship in Ordinary Time. Let our call to discipleship be no less extraordinary. Let us be so overwhelmed by Christ’s amazing love that we pour ourselves out for Him in our everyday lives. This is discipleship in Ordinary Time.

On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, we celebrate Christ as King over all the universe. He first came to usher in the Kingdom of God and he will come again to consummate that Kingdom. Meanwhile the Church, His Bride, readily anticipates the return of the King.

I pray that even as we continue to observe the Church season, it will not become a mindless routine. As we immerse ourselves into the Christian year, may we be mindful of its relevance in our ongoing discipleship. Perhaps when we are able to connect these seasons to our present Christian living, we will become more and more like Jesus whose life and ministry is remembered every year as we observe this calendar.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

December 10, 2017