3 Reasons why the Christian Calendar is Meaningful for today’s Church

By Joe LaGuardia

Our church, First Baptist of Vero, is hosting a short-term study on the Christian calendar during the season of Lent.  Although the sacred calendar has always been a part of First Baptist’s 101-year history, the church has often made an effort to educate the congregation on the importance and meaning of the Christian year.

Much of this work has come under the 20-year tenure of the Reverend Dr. Michael Carter, our music minister, who received a doctorate under the leadership of Robert Webber, a name church liturgists associate with the Christian calendar and ancient-future worship.

When I interviewed with First Baptist over a year ago, I was delighted that Dr. Carter was the resident theologian on liturgy.  I fell in love with the Christian calendar while attending a Presbyterian church in high school and Palm Beach Atlantic University, a Baptist college out of the Charleston tradition–a tradition that champions both biblical scholarship and orderly, liturgical worship.

On the heals of Ash Wednesday and while sitting under Dr. Carter’s teachings this past Sunday as he began his study on the Christian calendar, I remembered all of the reasons why I–and the churches I have belonged to and have known–cherish the sacred year.

First, the Christian Calendar reminds me that my faith in and with Christ is not all about me.  I grew up in a northern evangelical church that promoted a simple, but strong Protestant faith devoid of anything “ritualistic.”  We celebrated Christmas and Easter, but outside of that we tried to live by the adage that our Christian witness was more about a relationship with Christ rather than religion.

But something was missing in my Christian upbringing.  By the time we moved to South Florida when I was a boy, we were so “spiritual but not religious,” that it turned out that we were neither spiritual nor religious.  In fact, my tradition was so devoid of any ritual, my only memories of spiritual experiences were limited to attending Miami Dolphins football games and that one time I walked down the aisle to make a decision for Christ at First Baptist Church of Perrine.

When I started attending New Covenant Presbyterian Church during high school and, later, PBA, I experienced all of the nuances of the Christian year.  It did not come off as ritualistic, but a way of bolstering my relationship with Christ.  I felt that I was part of something larger than myself, part of a movement–the Christian faith–that stretched two millennia into the past and connected me to the larger story of God.

As Dr. Carter stated last Sunday, “The Christian year is about sacred time that tells of God’s story, about fusing our story with God’s story, and about making the Christ event the center of that story.”

I had a strong faith from my upbringing, but now I had the skeleton to hang–and to build–some serious Christian muscles in my walk with Christ.

Second, the Christian Calendar sustains me during seasons of spiritual drought.  We all have seasons in our walk with Jesus.  Sometimes we are on fire; other times, we feel distant from God, as if we are only stepping into each day with little connection to God.  That is natural; there is a rhythm to our faith that often mimics the four seasons of the very creation of which we are a part.

It is during those times of drought and “winter” of my soul that I come to rely on the Christian year.  The rhythm of sacred time gives me the bearings and the strength to keep walking, keep at it, to hang in there.  It encourages me to keep going because, though “sorrow may last for the night, joy cometh in the morning.”

It’s like brushing teeth.  We brush our teeth because its more than a routine, it keeps us healthy and keeps cavities away.  So too the Christian calendar is good for the soul; it keeps our hearts focused on God even when God seems far from us.

I found this out the hard way after my father died tragically as a result of gun violence.  After his death, I could not pray.  I could not focus.  I did not return to the pulpit for over a month.

The liturgy–specifically the hymnody, doxology, and congregational singing–was the only thing that got me through that time of grief and heartache.  If Jesus was hard to find in the midst of tragedy, I certainly found him in the midst of song–of hearing the congregation sing, and in following those notes sprawled across that trusty Baptist hymnal.

Third, the Christian Calendar teaches us good theology. At best, theology in the contemporary church is piecemeal, the sum of a thousand topical lessons and sermons that often fail to communicate the entirety of scripture.  I have heard this first hand–a 45-minute sermon in which the pastor presents a topic or thesis, and then strings together a barrage of scriptures as if those scriptures stood independently from the context of their respective books and of the scriptural canon as a whole.

The church year walks us through the entire Bible–starting with creation, the fall of humanity, climaxing with the birth, life, death, and resurrection in Christ; and culminating with the hope of the Second Coming of Christ.  It does not stumble from Christmas to Easter and to the next topical sermon; rather, the story of Christ stands central as we learn to be born again with him, pick up our own crosses, follow Jesus into baptismal waters, through hardship of Lent and finally the joy of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.

Dr. Carter quoted Robert Webber as stating, “The life, death, and resurrection of Christ stands at the center of time.”  This is not an event divorced from the rest of God’s story, but entangled with the whole of scripture.

I am far from idealistic.  I will continue to visit with churches and Christians who have no place in their life for the Christian year.  That is okay; people walk with Christ on their own terms.  But for me and my family, being intimately bound with a story much larger than the “LaGuardia” story brings liberation, healing, a sense of purpose, and theology that corrects and rebukes and reproves.

It is sacred, and that is something to behold.

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Holy Week: The Greatest Story ever told

christsfaceBy Matt Sapp

There’s great power in being able to tell a great story. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to professional storyteller Donald Davis with some of my ministry friends.  You should watch him. He’s great.

He’s helped me think about the nature of story, specifically the idea that story is much more than objective narrative; it’s more than just the facts.

Story, Davis argues, is more than simply telling what happened.  Story is interpretive.  It’s the way we choose to frame what happened. so story becomes the way we choose to remember what happened.  If past is prologue, then story becomes the way we choose to introduce our futures.

The greatest story we will ever tell is our own, and there’s great power in how we choose to tell our stories. We tell our stories to let people know who we are, so each of our stories ends with an often unspoken, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

Within each of our stories is the source material for a first-class tragedy, a hope-filled comedy, or an inspiring, wonder-filled fairy tale.

So the question is, “What kind of stories are we telling about ourselves?” How are we choosing to frame the narratives of our pasts? Do we tell our life stories so that we get to happy endings?  Are we telling a tragic story of woe? Or are we whimsical enough to tell a story that’s so full of fantastical details and child-like wonder that it must be too good to be true?

Each of our lives provides material to tell all three with candor. The choice of which story we tell is ours., and the story we choose to tell about how we got to be who we are today has tremendous power to shape who we will be tomorrow.

Here’s the thing: I am tremendously invested in how you choose to tell your story.

In part, I am invested because I care about you, and I have a selfish motive as well.  I care about how you choose to tell your story because none of our stories is entirely our own. We are connected, you and I.

The details of your story might be your own, but the narrative arc is ours. In the largest sense there is no your story and my story. At least I don’t think so.

I believe very firmly that we are all part of God’s story, which makes this week a fantastic time to talk about story because God’s story (and ours) will unfold before our very eyes next week.

The story of Holy Week is one of the greatest stories ever told.  It is a story of great celebration, of epic betrayal, of inexpressible sorrow and unspeakable joy, of brazen power struggles filled with great suspense and unexpected twists—and a surprise ending that NO ONE expected.

Yet, it is OUR story: the story of the Christian faith is a story in which each of us are invited to play our parts.

That, first, makes us characters in God’s story.  More importantly, it makes God the author and director of our stories.  Although we might be people who have the power to choose how we interpret the narrative of our pasts, God has the power to shape the way our stories end—and it’s fantastic!

Holy Week is all about story.  It is a story from our past that tells the story of our future, one in which our stories turn a corner.  My story, your story, every story hinges on the events of Holy Week.

As Frederick Buechner describes it, next week the tragedy of our lives meets the comedy—the good news—of the gospel, and they intermingle to form a fairy tale that’s too good NOT to be true!

So sometime on Easter, this Sunday afternoon, when you’re home from church and Easter dinner is fading into memory, do me a favor: Make God’s story your story by remembering the message from church that morning.  Smile, and say under your breath, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

Seven Spiritual Disciplines for Good Friday

good-friday-bible-2By Joe LaGuardia

For many, Good Friday is as much a part of Holy Week as Easter or Palm Sunday.  For others, Good Friday has never been a part of the worship routine.

There is some truth to the notion that Holy Week is not complete without some acknowledgement of Good Friday, for it is the day that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world.

An Easter without a crucifix is like having communion without bread, and resurrection becomes all the more amazing when cast in the shadow of Jesus’ broken body.

For Christians yearning to make Good Friday meaningful, here are seven spiritual disciplines you can try on your own or in a small group:

1.  Get together with an old friend.  Holy Week is a nostalgic time for people of faith.  We remember Easter at our home churches, egg decorating with grandparents, and the child-like joy of receiving chocolate bunnies on Easter morning.

Feed your nostalgia by calling a friend from the distant past.  Enjoy coffee, reminisce of old times, heal any open wounds, and laugh together.

2.  Spend time in silence.  The first discipline promotes connecting with a friend; this discipline promotes a deeper connection with God.

When we pray, we talk or intervene or give thanks.  Spending time in silence is a simple act of spending time with God.  No words or long speeches are necessary.  God wants time with you, and Good Friday is the perfect day to fulfill this long-neglected meeting.

3.  Go for a hike.  Now that the weather is getting nice, its time to get out and meet God in the midst of nature.

There are so many places within driving distance, you can practically hike during your lunch hour.  Give the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Arabia Mountain, or Black Shoals Park a try, and let nature’s voice become God’s voice to you.

4.  Visit a local church you never attended.  Call around to a few  churches close to your home or place of work and see if they are hosting a Good Friday service (if there is no service at your church, of course).

This is a good time to meet neighbors, shake the hand of a pastor reaching out to your community, and get exposed to different styles of worship or preaching.

5.  Exercise longer.  No pain, no gain, the old adage states.  Exercising longer and harder can help us relate to the suffering of Christ.

Although bench pressing can never compare with the torture and execution of Christ, challenging our bodies can help us center our mind towards the cross of Christ.

When we feel our bodies stretch to their limits, then we can appreciate Jesus’ own sacrifice all the more.

6.  Make a spiritual wish list.  So many of us have spiritual aspirations to get closer to God or connect with Jesus in a variety of ways.

Sometimes we need the discipline to sit down, take a few minutes, and write out those spiritual goals we hope to fulfill.

Corporations, executives and managers, sports coaches, and even parents assess where they are and where they want to go in their particular field of interest.  Why not do that in our faith as well?

7.  Volunteer at a non-profit agency.  Take Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday, when Jesus ate his Last Supper with his disciples) to call around to local non-profits and see  how you can volunteer on Friday.

We have plenty of opportunities in Rockdale County.  Family Promise of Newrock, for instance, has a day center that requires volunteers to keep the place clean and tidy.

Rockdale Emergency Relief or the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Pius X might also appreciate a helping hand in stocking shelves or greeting people who benefit from these wonderful service organizations.

Whether you seek intentional community or intentional time with God, I want to encourage you to make your Good Friday one to remember.

If you’re still not sure what to do, you are invited to join us at Trinity Baptist Church at 7 PM for our Good Friday service.  As always, all are welcome.