Time and the Church

The Church, that is, organized Christian religion, has always struggled to make sense of time. The date of Christian holy days, such as Easter and Christmas, has been under dispute for centuries. Some Christians in the past, and even today, are annoyed that Christ’s birth and resurrection are celebrated during pagan ceremonies of the winter solstice and spring equinox. The Christian calendar begins with the year 1, anno domini, yet Jesus most certainly was not born on this year, rather in any one of a dozen years before or after 1 A. D. New Testament writers refused to date annual events except according to the system of dating used by the Romans. The first great Christian historian after Luke, Eusebius of Caesarea, was very unclear when Jesus was born, and it was not until Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century that a system, ante Christos and anno domini, became accepted by the Christian world. Yet even in the past century the Church has gone along with the politically correct decision to change BC/AD to BCE/CE—Before the Common Era and Common Era—essentially denying that the Western dating system has anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

Many Christian denominations are beholden to the Christian calendar according to the supposed chronology in the life of Jesus. The calendar begins with Advent, then proceeds to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time until Advent returns in late autumn. Hymns, liturgy, prayers, and sermons are guided by this calendar, and some of it can be quite moving and wonderful; but as with anything repeated over and over, it often becomes stale and repetitive, requiring new ideas, new approaches, new ways to celebrate the same events. Indeed, liturgy in more formal Christian denominations can be mystifying to outsiders, and even to insiders, the participants and members, the words are said and the hymns are sung, not always with meaning and feeling.

Even more perplexing is the scriptural basis for the church calendar, indeed for the church itself. Jesus rarely used the word ekklesia, which meant not church, rather assembly. Indeed, he was extremely vague as to how his followers should go about spreading the good news, loving one another, doing God’s will. Once, in the Gospel of Mark, he is told that his mother and brothers are waiting for him, and he responds that those who do the will of God are his mother and brothers. The will of God, he says over and over, is to love: others, friends, enemies. Jesus sometimes preaches to a group of people, sometimes to individuals. The New Testament can speak to groups, and to the individual. The assembly of believers, the ekklesia, might be people in a certain community who join a set organization, but it can refer to people worldwide, in different places reading the same words, worshiping the same God, or it can refer to people across time and place, those who a thousand years ago worshiped God and those who worship God at this particular moment. Doing the will of God matters little when one does it, at what season one does it, or where one does it, alone or with others. Doing the will of God is something not subject to the constraints of time and place, to the Christian calendar or the Church. Love, after all, cannot be set by the clock, the calendar, the venue, or the particular people joined together. Love is timeless, placeless, simply love.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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