Acton Congregational Church lives by two calendars—the calendar of secular seasons, and a “liturgical” calendar, or the “Church Year.” The Church Year is based on the life of Jesus. By marking time according to his story year after year, we become more like him, as the colors, rituals and stories of the Christian seasons take hold in our hearts.
Advent comprises the four weeks before Christmas, a time of quiet, patient preparation for the birth of Jesus. Advent’s watchword is hope. In song, prayer, and ritual (for example, Advent wreaths and candle-lighting), we echo the deep longing for peace and justice of God’s people in every age. We call on God to send the Promised One to usher in a new world of reconciliation and joy. The color purple, or blue, expresses Advent’s spirit of contemplation, penitence, and desire.
Christmas celebrates anew the birth of Jesus. Its cast of character is
familiar—Mary, Joseph, the baby in the manger, trumpeting angels and adoring shepherds. Christmas also includes events immediately following Jesus’ birth, such as the escape of the Holy Family into Egypt, told in the gospel of Matthew. It is a short, tender season marked by goodwill and peace. But Christmas is also a sober season as we honor a savior born into hunger and poverty. The challenge of Christmas is never far from its delight. Its color is white, meaning fulfillment, joy and majesty.
This season focuses our attention on “revelation.” Our worship brings us
many gospel stories, such as the visit of the wise men, or Magi, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, in which God’s Spirit unveils to the whole world who Jesus is, and who he can become “for us and for our salvation.” Light in the darkness is the theme of this season. Like Christmas, whose joy it extends, Epiphany comes dressed in white.
The 40 days of Lent prepare us to live into the events at the end of Jesus’ life—his cross and rising. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lenten worship faces us with our sins. We are called to let God’s mercy change our hearts. The season is filled with images of wilderness, thirst and conflict. In the ancient Church during Lent, neophytes prepared for baptism with study, prayer, and fasting. Purple is Lent’s color, signifying repentance and conversion.
The most joyful season of all, Easter begins with the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. The season’s worship is punctuated by the surprising, comforting, and challenging presence of the risen Lord. Songs and stories remind us that God brings new life from certain death, and that with Christ, we too will be made new. Our mission, through words of hope and deeds of justice, is to announce and share God’s indestructible life with all creation. Easter colors are white or gold, symbolic of triumph and fulfillment.
Pentecost Sunday commemorates the day when the gift of God’s Spirit fell on the early followers of Jesus, and everyone experienced the universal reach and reconciling power of God’s mercy. In the weeks that follow, we meditate on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Church, and a witness in the world. This season is also called “Ordinary Time.” It teaches us the sacred character of our ordinary lives and duties. The color red stands for the Spirit’s power. It is used on Pentecost Sunday and on all Sundays that celebrate the Church – dedications, anniversaries, ordinations, installations. Green, for life and growth, is used the rest of this season.
The season that follows Pentecost is Ordinary Time. The origin of the word ordinary in this sense is “ordinal” meaning to count. These are Sundays that are counted but do not celebrate special holy days in the life of the church. During this time we hear not only stories about Jesus but also stories from the Old Testament. The ordinary life is transformed by faith in God.