Sometimes we see a “cycle of the church year” that is like a pie chart. This is very helpful in understanding the time element, and cyclical nature of the Church Year. I’ve used it before myself. However, the experiential element is not like a circle or a pie chart. Instead, I prefer to think of a mountain trail.
Think of the Church Year as a holy mountain, full of God’s presence and grace. Every part of the mountain is a place to meet God, and to hear his words of love and comfort, forgiveness and grace, but in different ways.
The valleys are just as important as the summits. We are hiking along this mountain, and want to experience the whole mountain, with its different environments, varied vantage points, and diverse climates.
We begin to climb during Advent, starting at sea level. The foothills provide a view of the mountain we are about to climb, and prepare us for the journey. They get us in shape for hiking. Advent prepares the way for us to experience the summit of Christmas. We arrive at the Christmas summit, and enjoy a spectacular view of God’s grace in the birth of Jesus Christ, and then the Feast of the Epiphany caps that experience off with a view of his Light shining to the whole world. Like a fire on top of the mountain.
We journey though the season of Epiphany, taking what we’ve experienced in the Christmas season with us as we move down closer to the earth.
Finally, we hit the lowest valley, Lent. Here we look up, and see the sheer, massive mountain and are overwhelmed. We must stop and prepare ourselves. The way seems long, and we know we will stumble along, and often fall. And yet here we realize that as we journey, the way is made straight and plain before us. Though we stumble, though we fall, we fall onto soft earth. We are supported. Our burden becomes lighter as we journey upward in God’s grace. This is where my mountain analogy breaks down, because rather than pulling us down, the gravity of grace draw us upward.
As we walk through Holy Week, we begin to look ahead, and to see the light at the top of the Mountain, its ultimate summit. But continuing on, we must climb through the darkest crag, Good Friday, so we continue in silence, pondering and praying.
Then, turning the corner at the edge of the peak, we see light ahead and we follow it. It is Easter Day. He is Risen! This stunning vista allows us to see all of the path that we have just climbed, all that is ahead, up into the sky, and off into the horizon. This changes everything.
We hang out at the peak of Easter for fifty days, enjoying and celebrating our climb thus far, taking in the view and gaining a new perspective on the valley.
After the day of Pentecost, we begin the journey back down to Ordinary time in the Pentecost season. Here we are focused in a new direction. Instead of looking up, we are looking down. Down at the earth, below us, we see people. People who have never climbed this mountain. People who may not know of its beauty, and its vistas. Our time at the summit has changed us, and we want to share it. Its time for us to go to them, to seek them out, and to invite them to continue this journey with us the next time.