Q. 16. But what difference does it really make? Does the church need to have a church year calendar of annual feasts?
Answer. I don't think the church year is absolutely necessary, but it seems almost inescapable, given the fact that God has created us to live through these seasons. During the childhood of humanity, God tutored Israel by providing them with festivals keyed to the changes in the seasons. Since we are deeply affected by the change of seasons, it only seems right that the church make use of the symbolic dimensions of the seasonal changes in conjunction with the life of Christ.
First, the Christian faith takes time seriously. Christ did not rescue us from time, but from sin and death so that we might properly consecrate our lives in time to the Father by the power of the Spirit. We are not saved from time, but in time. Time is reclaimed for man. God takes up our time into his life. The man Jesus Christ is now part of the very life of the Trinity. Unfortunately, the early church Father Athanasius' maxim "God became man so that man might become God" (On the Incarnation) has been misunderstood. It might be more appropriate to say that God became man so that man might become man again. This was Luther's way of putting it.
The Christian faith, therefore, is not a "spiritual religion"—spiritual in the sense of non-material, ethereal—rather, it affirms space, time, body, and matter—everything as the good creation of God--and all of it to be used in his service. Walker Percy in his novel Love in the Ruins gives the church the role of restoring humanity to a proper earthiness. At one point, a major character has the Lord's Supper explained to her by her husband.
"This is my body given for you." The woman, who knows very little about the Faith is shocked: "My God, what do you do in Church?" The husband explains: "What she didn't understand, she being spiritual and seeing religion as spirit, was that it took religion to save me from the spirit world, from orbiting the earth like Lucifer and the Angels, that it took nothing less than union with the humanity of Christ to make me mortal man again and let me inhabit my own flesh and love her in the morning.Thus, time and history are very important to Christianity, particularly Christian worship. Genuine Christian worship is not disembodied, timeless worship. It is not an attempt to transcend the limitations of our creaturely existence, but an opportunity to consecrate our creaturely existence to God.
Second, since this is true, Christians confess that the way we use our time is a good indicator of what we think is most important. We will always find time for what we think is most important. Our real priorities are revealed in the way we structure our time. Time talks. Time is like money because it reveals where our hearts really are. When we give someone else our time, we give ourselves. "What does this person believe?" we ask. To answer this we might best look at how a person uses his time. If you spend more time on the golf course on Sunday than you do with God's people, you have made a statement about your real commitments. If you spend more time in front of the TV than you do with your children, then we know what really matters to you.
All of this is true for the church as well. The church shows what is most important by the way she keeps time. One way to answer the questions "What do Christians confess? What do they believe? What is important to them?" is to look at how they keep time.
Consider Ephesians 5:15-16, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time. . ." Do we believe that it is necessary to redeem the present moment and bring it captive to and for Christ? Of course. What about each day? Ought we to redeem the days for Christ? How was that done in the Old Testament? Morning and evening sacrifices and the daily prayers and Scripture readings that developed from the sacrificial liturgy in the synagogues set apart each day. What about each week? There are weekly Sabbaths. What about the months? The Hebrews had monthly assemblies as well. What about the years? God instituted yearly feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles) that were linked to the seasonal changes.
The annual calendar of feasts in Israel (Exodus 23:10ff. Lev. 23) was primarily a theological pedagogy—instruction centered on commemorating the great saving works of Yahweh. The seasons were made to serve a theological purpose in the life of Israel. They were catalysts to cause Israel to remember what Yahweh had done for her. Passover / exodus / new life / Spring (Lev. 23:4-8). Pentecost / Sinai / first fruits (Lev. 23: 15-21). Tabernacles / full harvest (seventh month) / fruitfulness / judgment (Lev. 23:33-43).
Man remains a seasonal, rhythmic creature. That has not changed since the coming of Jesus Christ. If the church does not set up an annual church calendar to mark time, somebody will! And somebody has--the modern secular State.
Redeeming the time for us means reclaiming the time from the tyranny of the modern state. It has only been since the French Revolution that the calendar has been secularized. No longer is it keyed primarily to the great redemptive historical events of Christ's life, death and resurrection. The calendar is well on its way to being de-Christianized and correspondingly politicized
Like the pagan states of the ancient world, modern secular politics has again commandeered time for itself. Political holidays have slowly replaced Christian feasts in our land. Nationalistic holidays (e.g., Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Presidents Day, etc.) that celebrate national heroes are most prominent. This is a contemporary form of Baalism, when the faith is subordinated to national, political interests. Don't be fooled, if Christ's life and Christian saints are not memorialized throughout the year, then others will take their place (Washington's birthday, Martin Luther King day). Our calendars have almost become thoroughly secularized.
People will simply use whatever pagan calendar becomes prominent in culture. Christians that attack Christmas and Easter as pagan holidays, usually go to churches that make a big to-do about New Year's day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the Fourth of July. The annual cycle in America is truly becoming paganized. The Baalism of nationalism that commemorates the victories of the nation and celebrates all kinds of political "saints" (George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Christopher Columbus, etc.) is in the process of replacing the festivals of the church commemorating the life and work of Jesus Christ and the triumphs of his Church in history.
Some of these secular holidays may seem rather benign to us, but we our culture is living on the borrowed capital of Christendom. Just remember the French or Bolshevik Revolution, where atheistic, political holidays were forced on the populace. Even today in nations like the Congo, political tyrants deliberately impose political holidays and ban Christian ones in order to claim dominion over all of life.