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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A Prayer from a Daughter’s Daddy

 

My daughter, many moons ago...

My daughter, many moons ago…

By Joe LaGuardia

quotesLord, have mercy on me, a father of a twelve-year old daughter.

She just turned twelve, as you know, and scripture says that we are not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, with gratitude, make our petitions known to you (Philippians 4:6).

I am grateful, believe me.  I know that you have knit my daughter in her mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  I thank you for giving her smarts well beyond her years, whits that out-whit her father, and an intuition that matches that of her mother.

But that is what makes me anxious.  She is growing up too quickly, and my little girl is becoming a little woman.  Everything about her is changing, but I do not want her innocence, sense of adventure, and joy to change.  I’ve seen it in other girls–watched it unfold on the silver screen in that Disney movie, Inside Out– but I’m afraid to experience it in my own home.

Years ago, my wife and I worked with middle school kids, many of whom were my daughter’s age.  We enjoyed our time with them: They would try anything, and it made them a really fun group to be with.  Yet, they would try anything, which also made them the scariest group to be with.

I’ve always said that if our world wanted peace, prosperity, and more clean energy resources, just get a bunch of middle schoolers in the same room and let them have at it.  They are little geniuses, but that is also their downfall.  They get too big for their britches sometimes.

As smart as they are– (its the way they see the world, I think, the combination of madness, hormones, and naivety)– they can also be as dumb as a bag of bricks.  I’ve seen one middle school student jump off of a ten foot wall just to make his friends laugh.

I also worked with high school students, and they were not as fun.  They do not think it is cool to show any signs of interest or motivation.  They are too concerned about what other people think and, because of that, working with them at church is about as fun as going to the proctologist.

Lord, thank you that my daughter is not there yet.

Then there are the boys.  O merciful and gracious and kind Father, I pray that my daughter will still be more interested in Legos than she is about the young man with long, unkempt hair next door when tomorrow comes.

I know that your Word says that we should let the children come unto Thee and not hinder them (Matthew 19:14), but Thee is not my daughter, so may my Louisville slugger always be at the ready, your right arm there for protection.  I don’t own a gun, but I’m thinking about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Lord.  This is an exciting time.  It is formative, and I’m sure that my daughter will think more critically about the type of person she wants to be in life.

We’ve raised her to think independently.  When we told her that she can be anything she wants to be, we’ve meant it, especially since we are the type of Baptists who will affirm her if she tells us one day that she wants to become a pastor like her Daddy.

We want to hold on to her for dear life, so give us the courage to let go when we must.  We have heard of Prodigal Sons, but surely there are such things as Prodigal Daughters.  We trust you and we trust her; its the rest world about which we are unsure.

As is any prayer, O Lord, this is really about me, not about you.  Its about the willingness to surrender life’s greatest gifts to your plan and purpose in life, even if we don’t understand it.  It is about changing, not the person for whom we pray, but us– your stubborn children, sons and daughters alike.

O Lord, have mercy on me, for my daughter is twelve.”

Where I’m From…

By Emily Holladay

Many of you have likely read or created a “Where I’m From” poem like the one below. “Where I’m From” poems were made famous by Kentucky poet laureate, George Ella Lyon, and they serve to help take us all back to our roots.

I wrote the one you are about to read during our church’s women’s retreat. I hesitated to post it, because it is not perfect, but it turns out that neither am I. And, if you can’t go back to your roots right before Lent begins, when can you, right?

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I am from pen and paper, from composition notebooks and uniball gel rollers.

I am from the big tree beside the house. Full of wonder and hope. My person Narnia.

I am from the strands of ivy, the Easter lily, bringing peace in grief.

I am from horseback riding on the farm and raucous laughter, from Elmo and Frank and Jim.

I am from the stubborn and selfless.

From “this is the day the Lord has made” and “don’t make me look bad.”

I am from “God is good all the time.” And the comfort of a community that assured me, “All the time, God is good.”

I’m from the land of unbridled spirit, sour cream cookies, and Derby Pie.

From the minister’s sons who got drunk on communion wine, the uncle tossed out the bedroom window, and the May Queen, my grandmother.

I am from the attic on Kramer Street, where little Annie sits, protecting the memories, Eager to share the stories of Holladays gone by.

*This article originally ran on Rev on the Edge blog, and is reprinted with permission by the author.