May 21, 2013, 11:42 AM
Searching for Everyday Sacredness: The Observance of Sacred Seasons
May 19, 2013
During the season of Easter, we have been looking at spiritual practices as ways of finding everyday sacredness. I came across a list of over a dozen practices and we may touch on some of them in the future, but this sermon series concludes today, on Pentecost Sunday, with the observance of sacred seasons. Today we celebrate one of the highest holy days on the Christian calendar, arguably the pinnacle of the Christian story. Today is Pentecost! Pentecost, literally "the fiftieth day,” is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot. The word Shavuot means weeks, and the festival of Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot. Jesus’ disciples were gathered in the upper room to celebrate Shavuot, Pentecost, when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples who had been hiding and meeting behind locked doors suddenly received courage and power. Peter, the fisherman, preached boldly in the street. Jews from many other nations comprehended what the disciples were saying in their own languages and marveled. Weren’t all of the disciples from Galilee? Some were skeptical, and some became followers of Jesus. We count Pentecost as the birth of the Christian church, even though it took a while for the disciples to understand that gentiles could become Christians without first converting to Judaism. God’s power and work in the world revealed by Jesus suddenly exploded as ordinary people received the gift of the Holy Spirit. A vision for the Kingdom of God was revived as people shared their lives, studied scripture, prayed, and adapted the way they lived and treated each other. What followed, and has continued with greater or lesser success, has been an experiment in Kingdom living—participation in the Beloved Community.
Instead of trying to fit God into our time, which is seldom successful for very long, we can learn to live in the Kingdom of God. I lived in Japan near a military base for two years when I was a young bride because my husband was in the Army. We so enjoyed learning about Japanese culture and tried to participate in it as much as we could as respectful guests, but we were Americans. We spoke a different language, celebrated different holidays—or the same holiday on a different day, like New Years. In a very real sense, we still lived as Americans while living in Japan. First generations of immigrants to the United States have the same experience. In many ways, Christians throughout the centuries, starting with the apostle Paul, have understood themselves to be foreigners in the culture that raised them as they chose to identify more and more as citizen of the Kingdom of God. The spiritual practice of observing sacred seasons is one way for us to identify more and more as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Think of the secular holidays that identify us as Americans: the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, Labor Day, even Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and the list goes on. Yesterday was Armed Forces Day and the flags flew on Vashon Highway. These American holidays shape our national identity and tell our story.
In the same way Christian holy days and seasons shape our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God and tell our stories. Unfortunately, it requires more attention and intentionality to shape Kingdom identity. We do not find Kingdom markers in the media, sanctioned days off from work, and whole community celebrations. We have to work a little bit harder. And it’s harder for some of us who didn’t learn to observe sacred seasons at home to get the hang of it—so it’s harder to live and teach being a citizen of the Kingdom of God than it is to preserve native customs when we move to a new land.
Many years ago I met a clergy colleague in another tradition, Joseph, and his beautiful wife, Deborah. Joseph and Deborah live authentically and gracefully as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Their first words of greeting and final words of blessing are deeply grounded in the sacred season. I have learned so much from Gertrude whose family’s celebrations taught the Christian story and Kingdom living with simplicity as a first language. Gertrude currently teaches families how to teach faith to their children through celebrating the sacred seasons. For Gertrude, Deborah and Joseph, and many others like them, the home is the first church. Children are taught the stories of the faith and the seasons are celebrated in very practical and hands on ways. The seasons are observed as holy by parents and taught as naturally as we teach Thanksgiving and Fourth of July.
Let me give you some examples. Advent is a season of waiting and acknowledging the gathering darkness as the seasons change and winter sets in. Some families don’t place the baby in the crèche until Christmas Eve. Some move the wise men slowing through the house until they finally arrive on January 6, the festival of the Epiphany and gifts are given on that day.
Lent is another time of waiting. This season is about introspection, a time of reflection and clearing away all that separates us from God’s love. Sometimes food or activities are given up to allow for the things missing in our regular routine to call us to prayer.
Easter is all about new life. Families used to let the fire in their hearths die on Holy Saturday. Then they would like lamps from the Easter bonfire at midnight or sunrise to take home to light the hearth for another year. When furnaces became popular, families turned out the pilot lights in stoves and furnaces and relit them from the Easter fire.
Pentecost calls us back to spiritual practices. Pinwheels, kites, and streamers celebrate the animation of the breath of God that enlivens all of creation.
Ordinary time celebrates the growing season and the life of the church. Planting rituals help children learn about season and the joy of sharing a harvest.
The feasts and sacred seasons we observe are as important as our fasting. If fasting is about creating a just world, feasting and observing sacred seasons are about delighting in God’s Kingdom and preserving it by teaching and telling the stories. Let us feast and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit today. May the Spirit blow with power through our lives and through our church.