Secular or sacred time?

Nov 30, 2015 by

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What is time? Time is the measurement of motion through space.

A day is the revolution of the earth.
A month is the revolution of the moon around the earth.
A year is the revolution of the earth around the sun.

But time as such is without any apparent meaning. Just a spinning planet with an orbiting moon orbiting a star…repeating the process for the past 4.5 billion years.

To give time meaning, we need a story. Without a story time is pointless and nihilism beckons. (I am of the opinion that the violence that goes under the guise of Islamic terrorism is more likely a form of nihilist rage disguised in religious robes…but that is another subject.)

For almost 2,000 years, the church has had the wisdom and creativity to mark time by the gospel story of Jesus. This is time made sacred. Thus the church calendar.

Advent anticipates the coming of Messiah.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Epiphany remembers the revelation of Christ to Gentiles.
Lent is the solemn journey to the cross.
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection.
Pentecost marks the birth of the church.
Ordinary Time (or Kingdom Time) leads us through the year and back to Advent.

How we tell time determines who we are. If you expect fireworks on the fourth day of the seventh month, you are an American. Calendar creates culture.

The Greek calendar told the Greek story.
The Roman calendar told the Roman story.
The American calendar tells the American story.
The Jewish calendar tells the Jewish story.
The Christian calendar tells the Christian story.
The Islamic calendar tells the Islamic story.
The Secular calendar says there is no story — only politics and commerce.

I make a big deal about the church calendar because I want my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren to be formed by the gospel story of Jesus. To reduce the Christian calendar to a day for Christmas (a day when we don’t go to church) and a single Sunday for Easter is an almost total capitulation to secularism.

The fact that we are far more formed by the Fourth of July than by Trinity Sunday is ample evidence of our de facto secularism. The sad truth is that most Christians (myself included) are really secularists trying in varying degrees not to be secularists. If we hope to successfully swim against the overwhelming tide of secularism, we need to return to the Great Tradition. For me, the door back into the Great Tradition was the church calendar. The church calendar was the wardrobe that led me into the Narnia of the lost sacred.

So at Word of Life Church, you can be sure we will be doing all we can to emphasize the four weeks of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas that lead to Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. We believe the Jesus story is the true story that saves the world. We believe this so deeply that it’s how we tell time.

The day after American Thanksgiving is not Black Friday. It is the Friday before Advent.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Happy Holy Days.

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Mo. He wrote about being influenced by Anabaptism in his book, A Farewell to Mars. He blogs at, where this post first appeared.

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