Holy Week is upon us. The mindless celebration of Palm Sunday. The somber foot washing and feasting of Maundy Thursday. The sense of disaster on Good Friday. The confusion of Holy Saturday. The resurrection power of Easter Sunday. It’s a week where the gospel story is so dense that one can literally imagine themselves walking along with the Jesus and his disciples through each hour of their lives.
This is the high point of the Christian Calendar, celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox, the ancient Armenian and Ethopian churches, Mainline Protestant, and confused Evangelicals. Over the past few decades, everyone from Baptists to Pentecostals have been looking for methods to help them flesh out their faith in their day to day lives. They read something from the Book of Common Prayer and to may even give up chocolate in the spring, and secretly hope they’re not sliding down the slippery slope to Mary worship. This desire to incorporate older forms of worship was most championed by Robert Webber, who reasoned:
“The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past. These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward.”
Webber had it half-right. In his concern for creating a more visceral worship experience, he drew on two thousand years of spiritual formation to address the unique needs of post-modern thinkers. But the other half of the equation Webber did not address was local, day to day culture.
If nothing else, being missional means being missionary. A missionary is one who learns a culture, in order to present the gospel in words and forms that make sense to them. While I sympathize, and happily participate, with evangelicals wishing to reclaim liturgical traditions, we need to realize that those actions alone will not help us present the gospel to the cultures we encounter.
The value of a the liturgical calendar is not in specific rites, but in the idea that how we organize our time defines our lives.
What if, as we set out on our missional endeavors, we took the concepts of time and calendar seriously. Are there celebrations in a local culture that can be redeemed by the gospel? Are their gross imbalances that can be reformed through organized, corporate disciplines? Perhaps borrowing from other Christian traditions may help us address this or perhaps we will find ourselves creating something new.
In my church in Austin, Texas, we occasionally recognize traditionally Christian seasons and holidays. We anticipate during Advent, reflect during Lent and party on Easter. But we also host concerts during SXSW, ride our bicycles through the East Austin Studio Tour, and run around the park during the Zilker Kite Festival. We do these things because we are Austinites. But we do them together because we are the Church.
In the past, evangelicals have eschewed the practices of other churches. Today, they seem to grasp at them in hopes of providing a lost sense of meaning. What if instead, we looked at our neighborhood and asked the question “How does this people organize their lives? How can the gospel be presented within that?”