In Praise of Liturgical Calendars

Mother’s Day sermons. Memorial Day sermons. Even Thanksgiving sermons. Attend a given evangelical church around one of these holidays and odds are that you’ll hear one of these sermons, or hear a lot about these holidays in the worship service.

Ascension Sunday sermons. Pentecost Sunday sermons. Epiphany sermons. Mention any of those particular Sundays at a given evangelical church, and odds are you’ll receive a blank stare in return.

I’m not about to argue against the apostle Paul by saying we should rigidly observe a specific liturgical calendar (Romans 14:5ff; he’s not referring to the Sabbath, as is sometimes thought). But I think that with the generic evangelical church’s rejection of a liturgical calendar, a certain richness of worship was also rejected. Take, for example, the traditional Advent season in which we are now immersed. The four Sundays in Advent follow beautifully the biblical pattern of longing for the promised Messiah (Sunday of Prophecy), the purification the Messiah would bring (Judgment), the joy the Messiah would bring to His people (Joy), and the goodwill to those with whom He is well-pleased (Peace).

Further, nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the church. With the rejection of liturgical calendars came the vacuum of a calendar-less church. So by rejecting the liturgical calendars of our fathers and grandfathers, we have unwittingly embraced the American liturgical calendar, celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veteran’s Day alongside the secular culture while formerly joyous Christian celebrations like Ascension Sunday, Epiphany, and Pentecost are forgotten. Christians shouldn’t necessarily abstain from celebrating such American holidays, but I question the validity of bringing them into the church’s worship, especially at the expense of such biblically rich “holidays” that are right under our noses.

I think that using church’s liturgical calendar is a beautiful way of enfolding believers into the divine drama of redemption, making the good news of Christ’s birth, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of His Spirit even more real throughout the year. They are great ways for Christians to celebrate the glorious work of Christ.


4 thoughts on “In Praise of Liturgical Calendars

  1. Good post.Although I have have to chuckle at the fact that you linked the bible verse to the ESV study bible, where the study notes teach that Paul IS referring to the sabbath! Perhaps for strategic reasons you should've linked to a different online text!

  2. Ah, yes, it is ironic, and a strong disagreement I have with the ESVSB editors (along with their whole believers' baptism thing). The notes in the Reformation Study Bible, on the other hand, contradict the ESVSB, more to my view:"A pattern of holy days characterized the Jewish year, and it is probably to these that Paul refers, and not the Sabbath. If the Sabbath were in view it would have been more natural to say, 'One man considers the Sabbath above the other days.'"

  3. Joel: Good post. I think that our kids miss out the most, because they won't have that story of redemption reinforced. Although I am (obviously) not dogmatic about this. I tend to "celebrate" the American holidays with a topical sermon off and on, for example, this year I did not preach a mother's day sermon or (to the chagrin of some) a Reformation Day sermon. When I do go in this direction, it's simply to capitalize on people's attention – all things to all men, etc. For example, to preach near the 4th of July on God's sovereignty over the nations (NOT about 'God and country') seems often worthwhile, given our tendency to put our trust in political leaders/parties.Incidentally, you forgot Super Bowl Sunday.And Scott: I am shocked. Simply shocked.Ken


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