CHRISTIANITY, THE CHURCH YEAR AND THE PAST

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 

Ps. 77: 11-12.

 

The eminent French historian Marc Bloch wrote that Christianity “is essentially a historical religion: a religion, that is, whose prime dogmas are based on events.  Read over your creed: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ…who was crucified under Pontius Pilate…who rose from the dead on the third day.’  Other religions systems have been able to found their beliefs and their rites on a mythology nearly outside human time.  For sacred books, the Christians have books of history, and their liturgies commemorate, together with episodes from the terrestrial life of a God, the annals of the church and the lives of the saints.  Christianity is historical in another and, perhaps, even deeper sense.  The destiny of humankind, placed between the Fall and the Judgment, appears to its eyes as a long adventure, of which each life, each individual pilgrimage, is in its turn a reflection.  It is in time and, therefore, in history that the great drama of Sin and Redemption, the central axis of all Christian thought, is unfolded.”

Recently, the Rev. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wrote in an article in the Lutheran Witness:

“When you forget your past, you forget the Gospel.  You become locked into your own little part of time.  But when you study the past and know the past and know what happened in the past, you see God at work.  You see blessings.  You see the foibles and failings of sinful men and women everywhere, just like us.  And you see Christ.

“…the churches that forgot their fathers, forget the Gospel.  It’s very difficult for us Americans to understand.  We think that only those things that are now, today, are important.  We forget the fact that the church is a community that death does not remove one from.  A church that forgets the fathers, forgets its confession, forgets its reason for existence, forgets the Gospel.”

The church year has as its formative principle the life and teaching of the Son of Righteousness, unlike the civil year based upon the revolution of the earth about the sun.  It is the outgrowth of the experience and needs of Christian men and women throughout the centuries.  The Christian faith is strengthened and deepened by its appreciation of historic facts and personalities.  With its historic perspective the church year enables us to discover the very foundations of the church in the life and teachings of our Lord.  It commemorates the Apostles, the first Christian martyr and St. John the Baptist.  The cycle of the church year provides us with repeated presentations of the important doctrines and ethical teachings of our Christian faith.  The cycle of the church year anchors the church to the cross.

Gary Beard

Church Historian