Christianity 201

July 15, 2017

Types of Observance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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This article may look familiar to some of you. I was asked to write something for our local newspaper on very, very short notice; so I took an article which had appeared here and readjusted it to reach a wider audience. I’ve also made some adjustments here.

The 4th of July. My birthday. Trinity Sunday. Each one of these represents a different type of observance – one follows the civic calendar, one is a day that is personal to my immediate family and the last is part of the liturgical calendar which begins a new cycle at Advent and is now in what is called the ordinary time period.

For the people of Israel who were often foreigners in a strange land, the civic calendar of their surrounding neighbours would have meant very little. Theirs was a theocracy and their religious holidays were, as the root of the word suggests, holy days. Their feast days were remembrances of pivotal moments in their history, such as Passover, where God provided for them.

We do not have any synagogues in our community that I am aware of and it would be easy to be dismissive of the Jewish feasts as not applying to people here, but I think it’s important for us as Christians to remember that Jesus celebrated seven festivals every year which most Christians can’t even name yet each of them is central to His own narrative.

The Christian calendar has been more faithfully observed by Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, the United Church and Roman Catholics. Only recently have we seen an increased awareness among evangelicals of Advent and Lent. This yearly cycle anchors us more solidly in the gospel story and keeps us focused on Christ.

Think about Ascension Day. Many of us can repeat the line “he ascended into heaven” from the Apostles’ Creed but often little attention is paid to what it means — that Jesus’ earthly incarnation ended and he now sits at the right hand of God.

In writing to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that our faith does not consist in the keeping of special days.

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years.  I fear for you…   Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles — free from those laws.  – NLT Gal 4:10-12

The idea of days of obligation is not found in Scripture. We aren’t Christians because we go to church – we go to church because we are Christians.

On the other hand, as Christians nothing stops us from enjoying the celebration of birthdays and events on the civic calendar as long as these things don’t distract us from our Old Testament and New Testament spiritual roots.

An illustration of the Christian calendar: