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The Liturgical Year

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When people ask me what is unique about Lutheran worship, I will often respond by noting its Christocentric nature.  That is, everything about Lutheran worship points to Christ, whether in the hymnody, liturgy, texts, preaching, or the shape of the Sunday or the season. One of the ways in which this Christocentricity is manifest is through the liturgical year; beginning at Advent and ending with Pentecost, we not only recall but reenact liturgically the life of Christ, from the Old Testament  prophecies, to His birth, His revelation to the gentiles, Christ’s life and ministry, Holy Week and the resurrection, and finally His ascension and the establishment of the Church through the coming of the Holy Spirit. The church year is not simply a recounting of the events, but it is dramatized and given chronological structure which accords with historic events. The ancient Church Fathers called this active remembering “anamnesis,” which isn’t simply a passionless, passive, accounting of events, but a dynamic entry into the narrative, almost as if we were spectators or participants at the time. The increasing darkness of the Tenebrae service on Good Friday defies explanation—describing its character through each successive reading cannot convey the meaning of the service with its darkness coupled with the narrative of Christ’s suffering. To quote a cliché, “you just have to be there.” And this is how it is with the liturgical year. It communicates Christ’s life in a dramatic and chronological way.

This month brings us to Pentecost, the establishment of the Church, and Holy Trinity Sunday, which is technically not part of the church year established around the life of Christ, but the placement of which immediately following Pentecost provides for a convenient point to end the festival part of the church year—i.e., that part of the church year based on the life of Christ. The non-festival half of the church year, then, begins after Holy Trinity and deals with theological themes. The color of the paraments during this time is green, symbolizing the growth of our faith. Although there are some cycles, the readings each Sunday may not continue the thought from the previous week as they do during the festival, chronological half of the church year. Such is the meaning of Christocentricity—instead of just talking about how Christ is central to our Church and its teachings, we actually live and experience it.
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Benjamin Kolodziej
Director of Music