Our church year has two main cycles, or sets of seasons, which help us experience Jesus Christ in a particular way. The first is about knowing and experiencing Jesus in his humanity, telling the story of his birth in Bethlehem, and the shepherds and wise men who visited him there as he lay in a manger. The second is focused on Easter, on Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death. We tell the story of how Jesus came to be crucified, and tell of his ministry after his resurrection, of how he revealed himself to his disciples, and of how he commissioned them (and all of us) to minister in his name.
- In the Incarnational cycle, focused on Jesus’ birth, we experience God’s choice to become human, to join us here on earth through Jesus, and experience the world as we do.We begin by preparing for Jesus in Advent. We prepare both for Jesus to return at the end of time, and to come to us as an infant at Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. We take time to prepare ourselves, to reflect, to make room for Christ to enter into our lives again.
In Christmas, we welcome Christ’s birth, and we celebrate the Holy Family. This is a season of twelve days, where we celebrate his birth, his naming at the Temple, and it concludes with the Epiphany, the arrival of the three wise men from the East who bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation: that God becomes truly human in Jesus, and walks among us as one of us. There’s no way for us to truly understand the mystery of the Incarnation, but we celebrate it, as we experience Christ’s return each year, and look forward to his return as he promised.
- The Paschal cycle is centered in Holy Week and Easter, the time during which we remember Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. The early Church baptized new members at Easter, and so the time before it was a time of self-examination and preparation for joining the Christian community; we now call that season Lent, and we examine our lives, the things we have done, and the things we have left undone, and we make amends, in preparation for the holy and awesome experience of Holy Week to come. Holy Week is our reenactment of Christ’s Passion, the story of his journey to Jerusalem, his gift of the Eucharist to the Church at the Last Supper, his ordeal and death on Good Friday, and his miraculous resurrection on Easter, which we remember at the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.
The rest of the Easter season focuses on Jesus’ ministry after his resurrection, during which he revealed himself to his disciples, and then begins to look to the creation of the Church, which was founded on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rested upon the apostles, who preached in a multitude of languages they didn’t know to a crowd that gathered when they heard the commotion from the apostles. We celebrate the creation of the church, the redemption of the world, and the joy of our life with Christ during this culmination of the Paschal cycle.
- During the other times of the year, which in many churches is called “ordinary time,” we reflect on and remember the teaching Jesus did during his ministry on earth. Jesus was an amazing teacher, captivating huge crowds and teaching by relating his message to the lives of the people he was preaching to, and we work to do the same thing, living as we hear Jesus calling us to, and working through what it means to be people of faith in this time and place.