Christian Holy Days

Christian Holy Days

Seasons and Festivals

How did Christmas become such a great festival season even for unbelievers? Why is the Easter season known to the entire world? Why is the enjoyment of Sundays as a day of rest so widespread? These blessings came to us by very humble means. We enjoy them because Christians faithfully held their public gatherings on these occasions. Without the regular public assemblies of the Church these good things would not be part of life today. We all enjoy these days of rest and seasons of joy because of the faithfulness of those going before us. Festival days center on festival services and festival services center on the life and work of Jesus Christ. In these services the events of Jesus’ life unfold before us throughout the seasons of the year. By hearing the texts and the exposition of those texts in preaching, canticles, hymns, and creeds the faithful receive the benefits of Jesus life and work. Each service uses the theme of the season to build the faithful from the foundation of Jesus’ Baptism and refresh them in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Liturgy

Saint James Lutheran Church keeps the Liturgical calendar. Liturgy means public service. In true Christian Liturgy the faithful gather to receive the gifts of absolution from Christ and to be refreshed in the promise of everlasting life. Christ Jesus Himself provides the public service and is present by means of His Word and Sacrament serving the faithful. The Liturgy takes the Christian through the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ once each year. This discipline has been diligently observed down through the centuries so that each follower of Christ might grow strong in the “whole counsel of God.”

Advent

Advent is the season that prepares us for the Christmas festival. The weekly services in Advent center on Bible readings, chosen to prepare us for our celebration of the coning of Christ in the flesh into our world. The hymns and prayers of the Advent services flow from these readings. In addition to the Divine Service on the Sundays of Advent, midweek services are traditionally held. These services focus on themes of the promise of Christ coming in the flesh the first time, His first advent; at the end of the world, His second advent; to us as individuals, His advent by means of His Word, Baptism, and His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Lent

Like Advent, the season of Lent is a season of preparation. Beginning with Ash Wednesday midweek services are held. These services prepare us for the joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus; the Easter season. The goal is to increase in our hearts joy in the forgiveness of sins secured for us by Jesus’ resurrection. The readings draw us into themes of self examination and repentance so that we may never begin to trust our own righteousness, but be turned to trust in and clothe ourselves with the righteousness that Jesus Christ provided us through His perfect obedience for us, His suffering and death in our stead, and His absolution secured for us through His glorious resurrection. The lessons of the season turn us from ourselves and to Him who supplies our every need.

Palm Sunday

This festival recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the week of His crucifixion. (Matthew 21:1-9) Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the greatest celebration season in the Liturgy. Dr. Luther Reed explains. “This Sunday begins the ‘Holy Week,’ or the ‘Great Week,’ the latter name being explained by Chrysostom as referring to ‘the great things wrought at this time by the lord.’ Palm Sunday owes its name to fourth-century observances in Jerusalem, where on this day the faithful assembled on the Mount of Olives and from there went in procession to the city, carrying palm and olive branches and singing, while the bishop rode in their midst sitting a donkey. Similarly, other events in the days preceding the crucifixion were dramatized in the later services of Holy Week. It was not until the sixth century that services in the West included a procession with palms. The present lengthy Roman office of blessing the palms precedes the Mass for the day dates only from the ninth century. In the early church the candidates for baptism and confirmation were again taught the creed. This fact gives some justification for the administration of confirmation on this day, though too frequently now this feature dominates the service almost to the exclusion of its deeper significance.”

Holy Week

Most of us are not as familiar with this season as with the other great festivals. That is because in our generation we have let many of the services of Holy Week fall into disuse. This is sad because Holy Week is one of the great festival seasons in the year. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday. The more ancient name for this week is the Great Week for it commemorates the “great” works accomplished by Jesus Christ during this week. Each day of the Great Week has been appointed a festival day by Christians since the earliest times.

Each day of Holy Week has an appointed service. At St. James Lutheran Church a portion of the Passion History of Jesus selected from the Gospels’ of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is read. Psalms, hymns and sermon themes are selected to refresh us in the profound truths of Jesus’ obedience and suffering during that week. The purpose is to refresh us in the joys of our redemption; He obeyed and suffered for us and for our salvation. Though the mood is dark and heavy in view of Jesus’ death on the cross, there is an undercurrent of increasing joy which anticipates the celebration of The Resurrection of Our Lord. That day greets us with the joyous words “He is risen” -joyous because “he was raised for our justification.” Holy Week prepares us for that joyous celebration. The Epistle to the Hebrews captures the mood of the Passion season perfectly. Those words urge us to look “to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Saint James Lutheran Church holds services each day of Holy Week, Monday of Holy Week through Good Friday, at 7:00 PM. The reading of the Passion History, the Psalms and hymns are set in the Service of the Word. For the confirmed, the Service of Holy Communion follows at 7:45 PM.

“And it shall be in the last days,… many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:1&2)

Source: Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, Fortress Press, Philadelphia Pa. Fourth printing 1975, p497.