Coming Home (an argument for the liturgical calendar)

Have you ever noticed yourself starting to feel at home before you actually make it home? Somewhere between all of our comings and goings, the trees and little idiosyncrasies about our neighbourhoods become familiar. So familiar that you don’t even think about it until you move or find yourself in an unfamiliar part of the city. We may not be inside our homes yet, but we are so close we can almost taste it – we relax (sometimes to our detriment as most accidents happen closer to home), we begin to run through the list of things we are going to do when we get there, and we breath a little bit easier knowing all of our creature comforts are near.

When I was growing up, we drove everywhere. Long road trips to visit family or go on vacation were the norm – we were the family that didn’t bat an eye at sitting in a car for hours at a time (which is extra impressive when you consider that we didn’t have a minivan so the three of us sisters were all in the back of a sedan for all of these trips).

The inevitable thing about going away on a road trip is that you have to drive home. Instead of asking “Are we there yet?”, I learned to look for certain landmarks. “This enroute is 1 hour from home.” “This Tim Hortons means 30 minutes to go!” “This pet store means 15 minutes – so close!” But none of those compared to driving over the overpass and seeing home. On particularly long trips we would cheer when we got closer to home – the excitement building for when we would finally get to stretch our legs, unpack, sleep in our own beds, and finally just be home.

In the church, there is something we can follow called the liturgical calendar. You may be familiar with it, or it may be something completely new to you – I did not attend a church that observed it (outside of a little bit of advent observation and knowing “about” lent) until I was an adult. Many evangelical practices shy away from the practice of liturgy – understandable as the general connotation is that of something that is stale, dusty, and hard to relate to. But I would like to position that, when done well, it is instead an invitation to tune our hearts and lives to an annual rhythm of remembering the life of Christ. There is space for new readings, a reimagining of how a Sunday might look, and spontaneous worship and prayer within the calendar itself while we consider the unique challenges and concerns of today.

Liturgical Calendar by Third Church,

Today as I write it is Palm Sunday. After Ash Wednesday, this is the first major sign point that Easter is coming. It is the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of lent. While many churches will observe Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we have been taking the time to make space in our worship gatherings for confession and encourage the practice of laying something down (i.e. fasting from something) and possibly picking up something else (i.e. a spiritual practice) during lent.

It is often custom to remove the hallelujah from worship during lent – but on Palm Sunday we sing Hosanna! Come, Lord! We remember the triumphal entry and though “Hosanna” is triumphant, it is not “Hallelujah”. Palm Sunday is exciting but it is not Easter. Just like my little reminders for myself on a ride home, it’s a reminder that we are coming home to Easter…but we are not quite there yet.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 24: 4-8, ESV

As we journey through these hills and valleys, individually and corporately reflecting on the life of Jesus, we are given glimpses and tastes of what the fullness of celebration and presence of God will be like. When we celebrate Christmas after a season of advent we taste joy a little differently and we can only imagine, as we celebrate God with us, what it will be like when we are with Christ in heaven forever. And as we celebrate Easter after a period of fasting and piety in lent, we can wonder how much more our joy will be when Christ comes again.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 14:1-3, ESV

In the same way, as we experience these excitements and fullness of celebration on our Sundays and in our observations of the life of Christ, we are reminded that all of these things are but a foretaste of what is still coming. As we participate in the liturgical calendar, we are reminded constantly that as we taste the goodness of God here and celebrate what he has done so far, that there is a greater homecoming for all of us, and it is so exciting.


Romeo & Juliet & Me

Easter is probably my favourite holiday.

There are other holidays pretty high on my list – Christmas is an amazing season of family and joy, July 1/4 is warm and full of barbecues and fireworks, and Thanksgiving is when I get to eat most of my favourite foods in one meal and then take a nap. But Easter…Easter isn’t my favourite foods, we don’t usually see family, half the time it’s snowing, and no one has fireworks.

Easter is my favourite because Easter doesn’t have the bells and whistles other holidays do. I don’t have traditions I fall back on and there really isn’t a ton to look forward to.

And yet there is.

Easter has become a year-marker for me. Sure, January 1 is a new calendar year, February 11 is my birthday, April is when I graduated and got a job…but Easter is a spiritual time marker. For some reason, I seem to figure things out around Easter. In the process of reflecting on the death and resurrection I revisit my faith and my life, and I look back on the past Easters and how I’ve grown or changed since then. Some Easters are big and some are small, but God constantly reminds me just how far I’ve come and how far we still have to go. Easter gives me hope for the fallen world I live in and pushes me forward to love into the next year.

Once, I heard a message at a Good Friday service that struck a deep chord with me. It was about Romeo & Juliet, and I think about it every year on Good Friday. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to know a lot about the play to follow along)

In the most famous scene from the play, Juliet stands on her balcony and laments to the moon with what is one of the most well known soliloquies in Shakespeare’s repertoire:

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet

Tis but they name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s a Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot.
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without thy title. Romeo, doff thy name
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”
– Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

The premise is that Juliet is lamenting that Romeo is a Montague (“wherefore” means “why”, not “where” – crazy, I know). She begs him to deny that which identifies himself (Montague) and be with her instead. Besides, what point is a name but a word we just call ourselves? If he were to strip off his name he could exchange it for all of her. Similarly, God looks at us and loves us, but he sees the things that keep us from him too. He beckons us to himself – deny yourself and follow me!

We easily fit into Romeo’s shoes, too. He loves Juliet, he looks at her and sees unparalleled beauty and grace…but he can’t get to her. We look at God and we see his greatness, his goodness, his faithfulness … we love that. We love the idea of a perfect God who loves us back. It’s why we sing things like this song that’s been stuck in my head lately:

And You oh Lord made the sunshine the moonlight and the night sky
You give me breath and all Your love
I give my heart to You
Because I can’t stop falling in love with You
I’ll never stop falling in love with You
– Better than Life – Hillsong

God takes it a step further than Juliet did, though. He calls us farther than to just deny our names. He calls us to pick up our crosses, too. Yet we’re just like Romeo – but even more helpless – we can’t get to God ourselves. But in his divine love and mercy and grace He saw our plight, so he sent his son to make a way for us. He loved us so much that he gave his son as a sacrifice for us. It’s what makes Good Friday so good.

Now when he calls us and we respond, we undergo the change Romeo did not. We strip off our old selves and put on a new self, becoming the children of light in a dark world. AND, we get to have all of God, participating in his story. When I think about it that way, it seems like what I gain is worth the price I’ll pay.

This Easter season I’m taking moments to stop and think about how far He has called me to get here, and look forward to where he is calling me tomorrow. Trading in my weary, old identity and finding myself instead in the overflow of his mercy and grace. The forgiveness I don’t deserve spurring me forward into the next year.

This is a God who makes old things new. He breathes life into dry bones and he breathes life into you and me. He’s calling us forward with him – will you come with me and follow?