Who doesn’t look forward to a celebration? And who doesn’t enjoy the changing of the seasons, the annual cycle of new birth, growth, death and return to new life?
Peace congregation follows the ancient practice known as the Liturgical Year, an annual progression of celebrations and seasons commemorating the three great foundational events of the Christian Church: the birth of Christ, His death and resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Liturgical Year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, usually just after Thanksgiving, and ends with Christ the King Sunday in late November.
Each season is distinguished by unique styles of worship and music. Many people are familiar with Christmas carols, but the Church’s hymnals also include carols for all the seasons. During Advent, we hold back the Christmas carols, as we live into the longing and expectation of the season. We introduce our Christmas carols slowly, but sing them with gusto throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. In Epiphany, we sing songs of light and discovery, as we hear stories about Jesus’ baptism and call.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days (excluding Sundays). During this season, our worship tends to be more stripped down and basic, and we focus on the essentials of our faith practice in prayer, fasting, and charity. While we do not practice a full fast during this time, we do take seriously the call to return to God’s ways. One way we observe this is to “bury the Alleluia,” refraining from saying or singing the word alleluia for the duration of the season. Lent culminates in the services of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, when we gather for a palm parade and sing songs of celebration, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
At the end of Holy Week, Peace has developed the practice of observing the full Triduum (Three Days ) service. Beginning on Maundy Thursday, this service commemorates the final days of Jesus. On Thursday, we remember the final acts of service that Jesus offered his disciples before his arrest. We wash one another’s feet, remember the Last Supper, and strip the altar, observing the final command (mandatum) of Jesus to “love one another.” On Good Friday, we gather to hear the reading of the Passion story from one of the four Gospels, darkening the sanctuary as we descend into the darkness of the tomb with our Lord. Saturday during the day is a quiet and reflective day, but at sundown, we gather in our labyrinth to light the New Fire and process indoors for the Great Vigil of Easter! We hear stories of faith, ring bells to welcome back the Alleluia, fling water to remember our baptisms, and share in the first Communion meal of Easter. Afterwards, we gather in the narthex for fellowship and sweets. On Easter morning, we share a festival breakfast coffee, an Easter egg hunt, and a beautiful feast day worship.
The Easter season brings flowers and music of resurrection and new life. Throughout the season, we give thanks for our baptism and celebrate our Risen Lord. The Sundays in Easter continue for 50 days until the celebration of Pentecost. On Pentecost, the Church remembers the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the sending of the people out to share the good news through word and deed. The season after Pentecost is sometimes known as Ordinary Time, and is marked by an emphasis on the Church’s work in the world.
The visuals of worship reflect the seasons as well, in banners and altar decorations: pure white for Christmas and Easter; fiery red for Pentecost and the days of saints and martyrs; hopeful, regal blue for Advent; penitential purple for Lent; and lush, verdant green for the growing season called Ordinary Time in the summer and autumn. We often adorn the altar space with additional decorations, including candles, fabric, and other ornaments. Flowers are often given by members of the congregation in honor or memory of loved ones, except during the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, when the altar space takes on a more somber tone.
The celebration of liturgical seasons reflects the Christian belief that God’s history is cyclical. We believe that Christ came to save a fallen creation, that He died and rose from the dead, and that He will return in glory, as He promised.