The Day of Pentecost

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

The Church lives and moves and has her being through the gracious inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, no one could come to Christ or believe in Him. The fifty-day celebration of Easter ends with this joyous festival. The risen and ascended Savior has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Sanctifier, entering our hearts at Holy Baptism, nurturing us through the Word, and enabling us to understand the Gospel and to live a life that honors God and serves our neighbor.

The Ascension of Our Lord

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Ascension Day is the coronation celebration of our Lord as He is proclaimed to be King of the universe. Jesus’ ascension to the Father is His entrance to the greater existence beyond the confines of time and space, being no longer bound by the limitations of His state of humiliation. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, which Luther correctly taught is everywhere, having again taken up the power and authority that were His since before time. Yet our Lord is present with us who remain bound by time and space. He is with us as true God and true man, exercising His rulership in the Church through the means of grace which He established: His Word and His Sacraments. We mortals in those means of grace can grasp the King of the universe and receive a foretaste of the feast to come.

The Easter Season–The Great Fifty Days

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

The Easter season is a fifty-day-long season of joy extending from Easter to Pentecost. During this time, the Church celebrates the end of Christ’s struggles and proclaims His victory over death and the reception of the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection as gracious gifts of love and mercy for all those who believe in Him. This is the Church’s great season of joy! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The Resurrection of Our Lord–Easter Sunday

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Easter is the oldest and highest of all Christian festivals–the festival of festivals, the feast of feasts! On this day, when Christ first stepped triumphantly from the ranks of the dead, all our waiting is declared to be a waiting that is already completed; Christ’s triumph makes all the waiting that follows in our lives of faith a building anchored on the foundation that was laid when He whom the builders rejected became the Cornerstone. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Holy Saturday

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

The commemoration of Holy Saturday encompasses our Lord’s rest in the tomb and His descent into hell. The descent into hell is not, however, the depth of Christ’s humiliation but rather the demonstration of His complete victory over death. This day takes us out of the depths of most painful sorrow and out of the solitude of holy meditation upon Christ’s Passion to the celebration of victory as we anticipate the Lord’s resurrection breaking forth in all its glory on Easter.

Good Friday

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Good Friday is the high point of Holy Week, but not of the Church Year–for we know that after Good Friday a day is coming when death will give way to life. If the commemoration of Good Friday was separated from Easter, we would remain in our sins, and thus the ultimate word of Good Friday would be “you are condemned.” Even as we stand at the foot of the cross and contemplate the price of our sin, we gather as children reconciled to God. In the services of Good Friday, the Church does not leave us in the darkness and the shadow of death but rather fills us with the certainty of victory over sin, death, and the devil, pointing us to the final victory that will be celebrated on Easter.

Maundy Thursday

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Maundy Thursday, the Day of Commandment (Dies Mandati), most properly refers to the example of service given us by our Lord and the directive to love as we have been loved (John 13:34). Yet we must not forget the command given in the Words of Our Lord to “do this in remembrance of Me.” This day, with its commemoration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, is set off from the rest of Holy Week as a day of festive joy.

Lent and Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the forty-day season of Lent. Many churches, as part of their Ash Wednesday services, practice the imposition of ashes, in which the sign of the cross is made upon the heads of the faithful, as a reminder that we “are dust, and to dust we shall return.” The ashes are often the product of burning the palm branches from the previous year’s observance of Palm Sunday. The imposition of ashes is not a requirement, but rather a nice, visible reminder of the frailty of our lives, and Christ’s sacrifice for us. This begins the “purple season;” however, like Good Friday, Ash Wednesday can also be observed with simple black banners and paraments in the church.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fulness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

The Transfiguration of our Lord

The Transfiguration of our Lord is a movable feast day that falls on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. Today was the Feast of the Transfiguration in churches that use the three-year lectionary; churches that use the one-year lectionary celebrated the Transfiguration a few weeks ago, and are wrapping up their “Pre-Lent” season today. The Feast of the Transfiguration is also the Sunday that marks the “farewell to alleluias” before Lent begins.

The Transfiguration is found in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-12; and Luke 9:28-36).  It is in these readings that Jesus’s disciples see Him in His glory on the mountaintop, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. The disciples are so excited about the wonder that they are seeing that Peter even offers to construct three tents, that they might stay on the mountain. Like the day of Jesus’s baptism, God the Father speaks out from Heaven, and recognizes Who Jesus is, and tells the disciples to listen to Him.

As we prepare for Lent, we share the feelings of the disciples, as expressed in the words of the hymn, “‘Tis Good. Lord, To Be Here:”

Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain. Lutheran Service Book #414, verse four

Church Feasts, Festivals, and Commemorations

I’ve spent the last year sharing writings for each Feast, Festival, and Commemoration observed by the Lutheran church. So, you may be asking yourself, what is the difference between a Principal Feast of Christ, a Festival Day, and a Commemoration? I think I’ve finally got it figured out (although, I’m certainly open to correction if I screwed something up!):

  • Feast–These are the chief days of celebration, outside of the church year days such as Easter, and generally focus on events in the life of Christ, such as His Presentation in the Temple and the Annunciation to Mary, as well as days such as St. Michael and All Angels and All Saints’ Day.
  • Festival–These are days to recognize people who associated directly with Jesus, such as his disciples and his family. All of the people recognized on Festival Days are found in the New Testament. Holy Cross Day and Reformation Day are also Festivals.
  • Commemoration–These days recognize other notable Saints, including people from the Old Testament, such as Abraham, (and his wife, Sarah), Isaac, and Jacob, people from the New Testament epistles, including Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, early church fathers like Augustine of Hippo and Ambrose of Milan, and famous Lutherans, like Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora, Frederick the Wise, Philipp Melanchthon, and  C.F.W. Walther. Other pastors, missionaries, rulers, musicians, martyrs, and even artists are also recognized. These are all people who didn’t work directly with Christ, as His apostles did, but still worked to spread the Gospel in some way. The 325 Council of Nicaea is also included as a Commemoration Day, as is the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

Most of these dates are observed on the best known date of death for the individual, as that is the date they went to their eternal glory with Christ in Heaven. Men and women are both represented, as are many different countries from around the world. Principal Feasts of Christ can replace the regularly scheduled pericopes for worship when they occur on a Sunday, while festivals and commemorations do not.