Last week, I began a curious and potentially heretical list of the top ten liturgical services of the Church year. In truth, all services are fruitful to a life of faith. But my goal is twofold: to help us appreciate the rhythm and pattern of the Church year and to help us see better attendance at some extremely important services that are often ignored. So without further ado, lets jump into the rest of the list.
8. Reformation Sunday. The most controversial thing about this being on the list is that it is only celebrated by Lutherans and other Reformed folk. Well, we’re Lutheran, so it stays on the list. This Sunday is not just about Brother Martin’s famous 95 Theses or about Lutheran distinctives, even, but rather about the work of the Spirit to sanctify the Church for the sake of its mission. We celebrate the Reformation because the Gospel was rediscovered and because the consciences of God’s people matter.
7. Christ the King Sunday. Another “capstone” Sunday, this festival marks the end of the liturgical year as the following Sunday is always Advent 1, the first Sunday of every Church year. This Sunday reminds us of the high note on which things always end for Christians, with Christ as victor and Christ as King. This Sunday also always falls close to elections, so it conveniently reminds us that Christ is the sovereign king of all, even as we elect men and women to office.
6. All Saints Sunday. Built into our life together is an annual remembrance of the dead and the newly baptized. This Sunday is also a wonderful reminder of what a saint is: a baptized believer in Christ. That is what makes one a saint, not a number of posthumous miracles or an especially renowned life on earth. All Saints Day (or Sunday) wonderfully marks endings (death) and new beginnings (baptism), both rooted in baptism. Coming to see more and more the power and comfort of our identity as Christ’s baptized people is always a good thing, and All Saints Sunday goes a long way in that regards.
5. Ash Wednesday. Well, Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, is unlike any other service throughout the year, and combines both a reminder of our immanent death and promise of new life in Christ. It is point blank Law and Gospel as clear as day in one service.
4. Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Spirit is particularly lifted up two Sundays per year: Pentecost and Reformation. Pentecost is rightly seen as the birthday of the Church, the day the Spirit is sent by Christ to give life to the Church and strengthen it in its work. The Spirit’s work in the Godhead is to bring men and women to confess Christ as Lord, and this dramatic story in Acts 2 shows its powerful beginning. Since we are still living in the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led era of the Church, its hard to overstate the importance of this festival.
3. The Easter Vigil. This would be number one on many people’s lists, and I understand why. It is often considered the liturgical “crown jewel”. Historically, it was the time when catechumens of the Church would be baptized, and that is still true in our tradition when possible. What the Vigil does so well is rehearse Salvation History, from creation to Fall to prophecy to restoration: it sets the stage for the resurrection and is unlike any other service of the year. It would be nice if we could do all four parts of the Vigil (the fourth part being the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday), but it would involve either an 11:00 pm start time or a sunrise service. We simply roll that portion of the Vigil into the Sunday service and call it a day. This unique service still deserves to be at the top of the list.
2. Easter Sunday. Can’t argue with this one being on the list. It’s the day we specifically focus on the resurrection of Jesus! Of course, every Sunday is a remembrance of the resurrection. In the end, we are a people of hope and a people of joy precisely because Jesus has been risen from the dead. This event is truly the watershed moment of cosmic history. Why is it not number one? It certainly could be, but you wouldn’t need a resurrection without…
1. Good Friday. Again, you cannot separate Good Friday from Easter. I get that. And Good Friday does not offer the full promise of Easter. But the death of Christ is so central to Christianity that observing it should be our top priority on that day. This is where God’s wrath and justice are satisfied. And the utter pathos of our friend, brother and Lord Jesus enduring suffering for our sake is worth observing with the full reading of the passion (at the very least!). Because every Sunday is a day of resurrection (and we do not tend to see every Friday as a day of crucifixion), observing the crucifixion in an intentional fashion is simply critical for Christians. That’s why it makes number one on my list.