The Value of the Christian Calendar

Time matters. Dates are important. Just think of these milestones in your life: your birthday, your husband’s birthday, your wedding anniversary, the day you graduated from high school, or the day you retired – these dates, and the time that has passed between them, tell the story of your life. Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and special events helps us understand ourselves, our lives, and the story of who we are.

The same is true of the story of Jesus. His coming was prophesied (Advent.) He was born (Christmas) he was baptized (Epiphany) and  he resisted the devil in the wilderness (Lent.) He entered Jerusalem to acclaim (Palm Sunday) he instituted the bread and wine as symbols of his humanity (Holy, or Maundy, Thursday) and he died on the cross (Good Friday.) He rose again the third day (Easter) he ascended to the Father’s right hand (Ascension Sunday) and he poured out the Father’s Spirit on humanity (Pentecost.)

Every aspect of Jesus’ life – from his birth, to his death, to his ascension – is a part of his saving work to adopt humanity into the life he shares with the Father and destroy the sin and death that would have robbed the Father of us, his beloved children.We are saved by Jesus in the totality of his life. We are saved not only by his death but his resurrection and not only by his resurrection but by his ascension and not only by his pouring out of the Holy Spirit but also by his birth from the Virgin Mary. T.F. Torrance expressed it this way:

…the whole life of Christ is understood as a continuous vicarious sacrifice and oblation which, as such, is indivisible, for everything he assumed from us is organically united in his one Person and work as Savior and Mediator. ~ The Trinitarian Faith, pg. 152.

Therefore, all of Jesus’ life is worthy of remembrance and celebration. Through the Christian Calendar of worship we are empowered to tell the story of the whole life of Christ. We celebrate not only his birth for us but his baptism for us. We remember not only his death for us but also his Lenten discipline for us. We shout for joy at not only his resurrection from the dead but also his ascension into heaven.

Why? Because when he was born of the Virgin Mary and born of the virgin tomb, humanity was born again (see T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, pp. 85-86.) When he was baptized humanity was baptized. When he said “no” to the devil he reversed Adam’s “yes” to the devil. When he died, we died, and when he rose, we rose. And in his ascension humanity itself is ascended to heaven at the right hand of the Father.

This is the reason for the Christian Calendar and the value it has for us as believers. It enables us to construct a year of worship that acknowledges that time matters and dates are important. As surely as I will never fail to gather with my family to celebrate the birth of my children or my marriage to my wife so I will also never fail to gather with the Church to celebrate the adoption, salvation, and rebirth of the universe in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

As you celebrate Holy Week and Easter this year may the Holy Spirit fill you with the joy of the Father’s love for you through Jesus Christ!

7 comments so far

  1. Nan on

    Jonathan,

    I appreciate the reminder of how important the Christian calendar is for believers. I think that it’s easy to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when we view the calendar as another worn-out church practice that doesn’t have meaning for contemporary Christians. The danger is when we keep Lent (or any other Christian holiday) and we forget why. Some friends of our teenage sons don’t eat meat on Friday during Lent, but they would be hardpressed to explain why. I think the calendar offers us a link to our Christian ancestors, and helps us see ourselves as a part of something much bigger than ourselves or our local church.

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      You make a good point, Nan. I think it’s important that those of us who lead the worship and preaching in congregations help people understand the significance of the events of Jesus life as we celebrate them. So, for example, during Lent I focus on talking to people about giving up to Jesus our wrong ideas about God and letting him share his true knowledge of the Father with us (i.e. repentance) more than I focus on giving up certain foods.

  2. Bo Welch on

    I tend to have a negative view of the Christian Calendar mainly because I link it in my thinking to Liberal Protestantism and to all the pagan themes that surround Christian Holy Days (i.e. Christmas Trees, Easter Bunnies and Eggs). When I read the New Testament and especially texts like Gal. 4:8-11, it doesn’t lead me to conclude that we are to follow a liturgical calendar. After Pentecost (Acts 2) it seems that Churches met on a weekly basis in homes and that they were led by multiple elders and where orderly but charismatic or led by the Spirit. I don’t see anything that would lead me to believe that NT Churches did anything like what we see today in Liturgical Churches. I tend to see following the Christian Calendar as quenching the Spirit, a hindrance to creativity, and tending to accentuate the separation between clergy and laity. I see the connections with Christ’s life and our lives and I think that we should focus on these things throughout the year. I just object to the idea of giving the calendar rather than the Spirit the control over our worship.

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      Regarding pagan themes: I consider those things to be the rightful spoils of war captured by Jesus in his victory over Satan and converted to holy purposes. Just as an army might take an enemy fort and use it for its own purposes so Jesus took evergreen trees, eggs, etc. and has been using them for his own purposes for going on 1,500 years now. Just as pagan people can be converted so can pagan customs.
      Regarding the Holy Spirit: I think the Spirit can work through planning and spontaneity, I don’t think it has to be one or the other. For example, we plan one day a week for the church to gather (usually Sunday) and we expect the Spirit will lead that gathering. We don’t assume that planning the date and time of that gathering is going to quench the Spirit. In other words, we don’t tell people “show up at church any day, any time this week because we don’t want to quench the Spirit by planning ahead.” In the same way the calendar allows us to say “we’re going to plan ahead to celebrate the key events of Jesus’ life on these certain dates and have faith that the Spirit is leading us.” I personally believe that the calendar we have is a gift given to us by Jesus in the Spirit to help us tell the story of our inclusion in his life and therefore is as much an act of the Spirit as any spontaneous event might be. In fact, what I’ve noticed is that churches that don’t plan ahead to celebrate events such as Jesus’ ascension or baptism somehow never get around to talking about those important aspects of Jesus’ saving work. Yet, somehow, many of those same churches manage to do Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, and the Fourth of July every single year. How is it that we have so many supposedly “Spirit-led” churches in America that pay more attention to the anniversary of our nation’s founding than they do to humanity’s ascension to the right hand of the Father in the person of Christ? I find it very hard to believe that the Holy Spirit is really leading such un-Christ-centered worship. I’m not saying that you, or the church you’re a part of, are guilty of these things, I’m just saying that I believe the old saying “to fail to plan is to plan to fail.” If we fail to follow the plan for telling the whole story of Christ that is laid for us by the Holy Spirit in the Christian Calendar then the odds are very great that we will fail to tell the whole story.

  3. PATC on

    The problems I have with the Christian calendar are many, my point is, If my birthday is May 9 and everyone decides to celebrate it Jan. 4, why bother, and where is the respect to me? If I would die on Jan 8 and everyone decides to remember my death on July 18, why bother, whose death are you really remembering? If I rose from the grave on Feb 2, and everyone decides to celebrate that resurrection on Oct 9 who are you celebrating? And if you use symbols that belong to someone else in that celebration , how is one to know who you are truly celebrating? Don’t tell me it does not matter, if it matters enough to remember and celebrate them, then out of respect for the one you are celebrating it would seem to me to do it when these events happened and use symbols that are pertinent to them, other wise what are you doing?Christians raise a big stink about honoring God right and doing what is right but when it comes to their celebrations it leaves alot to be desired.Those outside looking in can see the hypocrisy here, but apparently those inside are too blinded by all your celebrating. I’m just saying.

    • Michael William Smith on

      PATC,
      What exact day was our Lord Jesus Christ born on and what exact day did He rise from the dead? How do you know this? You sound like someone that is maybe sure that they know. Just asking.
      Pastor Jonathan,
      Thank you brother for this post, I so enjoy reading!

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Michael. I think you raise a good question for PATC. Let’s assume that Dec. 25 is not the correct date of Jesus’ birth. If that’s so then what date should we talk about and celebrate Jesus’ birth? Jan. 6, Mar. 25, and Sept. 25 would all be other possibilities – as would any other day of the year. If we don’t know the date then any date works. And if any date works then Dec. 25 works. If we don’t know the exact date then we would be free to pick any date and that freedom would include the freedom to pick Dec. 25. PATC should correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that PATC doesn’t think we should be celebrating Jesus’ birth at all, and I’m guessing PATC also thinks we shouldn’t remember or celebrate Jesus’ baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension either. I think this is the more fundamental issue that’s involved: is the Church called to tell and celebrate the story of Jesus’ life or not? I believe we are. And I believe that Jesus, as the head of the Church, led the early Christians through the Holy Spirit to establish the pattern of the Christian Calendar in order to accomplish this task of celebrating the story of Jesus’ life. So, I truly believe that Dec. 25 is Jesus’ choice of when he wants his birth celebrated and that the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (i.e. the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover) is the day he wants his resurrection celebrated. I believe that Jesus, as the head of the Church, led the early Christians to these dates. Again, PATC should correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that PATC also disagrees on this point. My guess is that PATC doesn’t believe that Jesus was guiding the early Christians. PATC probably thinks that Jesus guided the early Christians to choose the correct books to put in the Bible but virtually all other decisions they made (such as the Christian Calendar) were made without Jesus’ guidance or in disobedience to him. So, that would be another basic area of disagreement between us. I think the early Christians were Christian, Jesus was leading them and even though they made mistakes on some matters – as we all do in every generation – I think they got the Christian calendar right. One of the main reasons I think this is because Christians all over the world for 1,500 years have reaffirmed the value of telling the story of Jesus’ life through these seasons of celebration. So, there is a very wide and deep affirmation within the Christian community that this is a Jesus directed, Spirit led work


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