We often talk of sharing the life and love of Jesus, but we are also called to share that he is the light of the world. The three seasons (cycles) of the GCI Worship Calendar help us focus on his light, his life and his love.
History was not my favorite subject in high school. Some of the stories were interesting, but I couldn’t see the value in knowing what I considered the trivia that always showed up on tests—specific quotes, exact dates, minute details. As I got older and learned more, I realized there was significance to some of this “trivia.” A quote or specific date might have been what inspired someone to start a movement. The “minute details” often led to events that changed the course of history. I have come to enjoy history—even more so as I started studying the Bible and realized it is God’s story—his story. The Bible is the story of God’s love for humanity and his desire to bring us into eternal relationship with him. The story became even more fascinating when I came to understand that we were created to live inside the big story of God as centered in Jesus Christ.
This is the very thing Jesus was teaching the disciples on their journey to Emmaus. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27 NRSV). We are blessed to not only have the Old Testament, which shares God’s story of his relationship with a person and then a nation, we also have the New Testament, which shares how God incarnates himself in Jesus with the plan of saving all people. The story continued through the life of the apostles as they spent time with Jesus and then taught about him the rest of their lives. That story continues today as we share Jesus’ light, life and love with others. God’s story is the story of Jesus and us. This is why our worship calendar is centered around Jesus. He is, as we often acknowledge, the center of the center.
The worship calendar helps us follow the story of Jesus by focusing on seven seasons or major events in his life with special worship days that correspond with each of those events. Bobby Gross, a guest speaker at our GCI Celebration next July, and author of Living the Christian Year, summarizes these seasons into three worship cycles: the cycle of light, the cycle of life and the cycle of love. I believe his summarization is worth exploring as we focus on Jesus through the GCI Worship Calendar. Let’s look at each cycle.
The Cycle of Light
The symbol of light ties the first three seasons together beautifully. First with all who live in a world or darkness, we anticipate “a great light” (Is 9:2); then, we celebrate the “true light… coming into the world” (Jn 1:9); finally we proclaim Jesus as the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12). (Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year, 22-23)
The cycle of light includes Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Advent is known as a time of preparation as we look back and we look forward. We begin Advent by looking forward to Jesus’ return at the end of the age. We then focus on what it means that he lives in us as our prince of peace and giver of joy. Then we look forward to his arrival as the babe born of the virgin Mary.
Following Advent, we celebrate Christmas and the incarnation—when light entered darkness, when the true light came into the world. Christmas is followed by Epiphany when the light is made clear to others. We commemorate the Magi who followed the star (a light), which revealed the true light. The final Sunday of Epiphany—transfiguration Sunday—is when we learn from the experience of a select group of disciples who saw Jesus in his glory.
The Cycle of Life
First, we follow Jesus as he serves and eventually “give[s] his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45; then we relive the stunning drama of his resurrection; finally, we bask in the promise of sharing in his new life, now and forever. These are the seasons of redemption: God rescues us from death through Jesus. (ibid., 23-24)
This cycle of following Jesus’ life includes the time of Easter preparation, Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), Easter and the Ascension. It starts with Jesus entering the wilderness to prepare for ministry. Here the enemy comes to tempt Jesus and Jesus resists all temptation by staying true to who he is—the Son of the Father.
The 40 days of Easter preparation parallels the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, which parallels the 40 years Israel wandered through the desert. During that time Israel was given many opportunities to grow in their relationship with God. Jesus went to the wilderness with the words of the Father ringing in his ears, “This is my beloved Son, in him I am well pleased.” After 40 days he emerges ready to take on a ministry that would lead to the cross.
This leads to the culmination of Jesus’ life—Holy Week. We see his passion for Israel on Palm Sunday as he weeps over the city; we hear the new commandment that he gives to his disciples to love others as he loves us. We are moved by his prayer in John 17. We see his anguish at the garden of Gethsemane, and we get angry over the way he was treated and finally murdered on the cross. (It isn’t until the Holy Spirit enters that we understand the true meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice.) It was for us because he loves us. We strive to live as he lived—loving others, entering their space, walking in their shoes, putting others before the self.
We celebrate the resurrection and we are in awe of the ascension—not completely understanding what it means that Jesus took us up into the heavenly places to be in the presence of Father, Son and Spirit.
The Cycle of Love
Also called Ordinary Time, the season starts with Pentecost, includes Trinity Sunday and All Saints Day, and ends with Christ the King Sunday—the last Sunday before Advent.
We live our Christian lives in rhythms; shared love for God (worship) and sacrificial love for his world (mission), appropriate love of self and self-giving love of neighbor, love of fruitful work and love of renewing rest. This is the extended season to walk in Christ’s light, to grow in Christ’s life and to embody Christ’s love. (ibid., 24-25)
The heart of this season is joining Jesus in sharing his life and love with others—participating in the mission of God. It is seeing the Great Commission as an invitation to join Jesus in what he is doing. It is understanding that the Great Commission starts with the reminder that all power and authority has been given to Jesus and ends with the promise that he will be with us always. Jesus poured himself out in love and he invites us to not only share that truth, but to pour ourselves out in love as well.
God’s plan centers on Jesus. Our worship calendar centers on Jesus. May God help us center our lives on Jesus as we continue to participate in his story.
Living through the cycles,
 Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 22-25.