As Americans, we love innovation, planning, and strategy. We want to strip ourselves free of old tradition and boring practices that tie people down. Freedom is being able to work outside of the box. The gospel community movement is the innovation that breaks from the tradition and into a new reality where the Church can be relevant in reaching our cities and is the future of the church. We have broken free from the crusty old past.
So, why does our church, structured around gospel communities, celebrate Lent, Advent, Pentecost, and the rest of the Christian calendar? Are we Catholic? Are we losing our minds, “selling out” to the pressure of tradition, or have we lost our faith in the “movement”? Why are we going ‘backwards’?
To many, the Christian calendar and liturgy are the antithesis of decentralized and missional. However, Bread&Wine is celebrating the Christian calendar because we are a church structured around gospel communities. It isn’t a reaction, diversion, or distraction. The calendar isn’t in competition with gospel community but a structure to help them thrive. Sounds counterproductive, right? Reading prayers, fasting, lighting candles, focusing on the old themes of the Christian life. Clearly it isn’t.
THE CALENDAR FOCUSES US ON GOSPEL
The Christian calendar tells the story of the gospel and our need and response to the gospel. It tells us of the incarnation, life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. The calendar gives gospel communities the foundation, reminder, and focus on the whole gospel message. It makes the gospel the central force of a community on mission. Following the Christian calendar doesn’t allow us to stray from the gospel or too narrowly obsess of one single element.
Advent tells us of our longing and desperate hope for God to come. Advent reminds us of the incarnation into our mess: God sending himself. The joy, love, and lasting peace Jesus brings beckons our hearts to hope, our minds to remember, and our lives to live enacted peace in the world today. Advent gives us eyes to see Jesus’ coming to us for us.
Epiphany focuses our hearts on the reality of those seeking God and his response to them. That God’s heart is not simply for the insider, but also the outside: Jesus comes for the world. Epiphany calls our hearts to pray for those who are seemingly far from God and remember God’s heart, love, and passion for the whole world and his power to redeem it. Epiphany focuses our hearts on the life and ministry of Jesus
Lent is perhaps the most dangerous of them all. A season of fasting, confession, prayer, and staring of death, suffering, lament, and repentance in the face. It’s a time where we abstain from the food of this world to feast on the living hope. It is a season where we run from distractions and toward truth and worship of Jesus. This season focuses us on the passion, death, sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
Easter reminds us of the purpose of the gospel, the climax of the gospel, and empowers confident hope: God has conquered sin and death and is making all things new, even us. The resurrection and empty tomb reorients our perspective on this world, our lives, and our dreams. Jesus is the conquering king. Jesus loved us with power. Our own lives are raised. Easter focuses us on the resurrection.
Pentecost tells the story of Christ’s ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. It reminds us we are empowered, sealed, secure, and sent by God to be his ambassadors in the world. It doesn’t let us forget the Holy Spirit’s work in saving, restoring, and reviving our souls. Pentecost focuses us on the Holy Spirit’s work in creating, leading, and empowering the Church.
THE CALENDAR UNIFIES US IN THE GOSPEL
Following the seasons of prayer and reflection through the Christian calendar gives opportunity for our unity to increase around the gospel. With our hearts turned toward the same truths and themes, we experience a oneness that transcends affinity. We all know the gospel creates a unified people expressed in love, forgiveness, grace, and sacrifice centered on Jesus. Following the seasons as a missional community binds you together around the gospel.
Typically, your community will only physically be in the same room a few times throughout a week. Work, family, and the busyness of the city drains time available. However, as you go throughout the city you remain a community, a family of God. The practice of the Christian calendar as a missional community reinforces your unity as you are separate. It provides a unifying experience through the reading, praying, and fasting. It is a very binding experience to, for a short period of time, grow together in the same concerted direction. As you walk through the seasons together your community’s engagement will move beyond: “how was work this week?” to, “how are you processing repentance?” “What did you think of that passage we read on Wednesday?” “How is fasting and praying”?
THE CALENDAR SENDS US ON MISSION
Each of the seasons of the calendar turn our hearts upward, but they also place us on mission in the city. The seasons open a community’s collective eyes to the people around it, the state of their city, and its need for the gospel of Jesus. As a community reflects on Christ’s personal and global peace during Advent, they can’t help but long for that peace to come to their friends, neighbors, and in the suffering of the poor in their city. The calendar sends us, rooted in the gospel, to do the mission of God in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and city.
THE CALENDAR MAKES SPACE FOR SOJOURNERS
Amazingly, the Christian calendar isn’t just to remind Christians what we believe, but is also an explanation to the unbelieving world what we believe.
Those seeking true spirituality and faith that matters in the world come regularly with the same questions: What is Christianity all about? What is its central message for the pain, problems, and suffering of my life and the world? How does someone spiritually engage in Christianity? What are its practices?
A gospel community invites friends into it, this is what must get answered through conversations, observing the life of the community, and through focused conversations on Christian faith and practice. The calendar not only makes space for the spiritual sojourner, but answers many of their questions. Each season is a culturally relevant opportunity to engage Christianity. Each season speaks the gospel and answers the questions many have about it. Each season is incredibly compelling it its acknowledgment of pain, suffering, sin, death, and evil in the world while giving clarity to God’s remarkable mission to redeem, restore, resurrect, and restore this world.
Lastly, each season offers inroads into practicing a Christian life through prayer, scripture reading, fasting, meditation, and service.
THE CALENDAR ROOTS US IN OUR HISTORY
One of the founding leaders of Bread&Wine is also a very skilled gospel community leader. Furthermore, him and his family are incredibly faithful. It didn’t take long for the way they lived their lives, as servants and family, to get noticed. As their neighbors watched and listened they came to the conclusion that what they were seeing was completely unique. Their curiosity resulted in this question: What’s your new religion called?
When we follow the Christian calendar it gives our missional communities the opportunity to tell everyone involved: this isn’t new Christianity but old Christianity. We haven’t recreated the wheel but are living in a long tradition of faithful saints. In all our innovation and in all our new language, we have to remember we are standing on the shoulders of a wonderful faith. This keeps us grounded, humble, and provides another important clarification to the watching world.