I love the Church Calendar, the liturgical seasons and feasts and festivals that give the year texture. Moreover, I am convinced that the rhythm of life established by the Calendar provides an incredibly helpful framework for corporate discipleship, as a local community of believers walk out their faith together.
Right now we are at the very end of the liturgical year – the new cycle beginning with Advent, which this year starts on 28 November.
Right now we are in a mini-season, from All Saints’ Day to the eve of Advent:
It begins with All Saints’ Day – an opportunity to reflect on and give thanks for those whose lives have demonstrated God’s goodness and modelled for us a faithful human response to God’s initiative;
and All Soul’s Day – an opportunity to remember and give thanks for those we have known personally, who discipled us in some aspect or other, and who now live in God’s presence;
and concludes with the feast of Christ the King – an anticipation of the day when the One whose coming in history and future return we prepare our lives to receive in Advent, will take his place over all creation.
These lines come from a prayer for each morning between All Saints’ Day and Advent:
“In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.”
While ‘this age’ refers, broadly, to the time between Christ’s first and second coming, they describe everything within that realm as passing (it is the age, not simply the darkness, which is passing away).
And these words will affect us in different ways depending on our present experience. If our present experience is a heavy burden to us, then the reminder that this too will pass gives rise to hope. If, on the other hand, our present experience is a spacious place to us, then the reminder that it is passing away can be threatening; the challenge to journey on, unwelcome.
Local communities of believers journey together – an image of pilgrimage towards the heavenly city, of the provisional rather than the permanent.
In moving on together, the greatest resistance comes not from those who have been part of the community the longest, but from those who came on board as a result of the last change, the most recent past stage in the journey.
In moving on together – in experiencing change – the greatest resistance comes not from those who have been part of the community the longest (who have seen change many times over the years), but from those who came on board (either joined the community; or experienced a spiritual awakening or particular growth; or stepped-up into a particular recognised serving responsibility) as a result of the last change, the most recent past stage in the journey.
They have not experienced change – which is, by nature, unsettling – before; or they experienced a change that brought them into a spacious place they fear losing again; or they simply have a massive vested interest in keeping going what needs to be allowed to pass away.
They are the ones who most need to be drawn into the light, and to experience a share in the enjoyment of God’s presence. Not the press of duty, nor the persuasion of conviction, but the joy of enjoyment.