“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
This is a common saying, especially in education. The exhortation to repeat, repeat, repeat hopefully is prevalent in our Lutheran schools. Only through repetition does one learn and retain something. You are only reading this right now because someone drilled you on your ABCs and phonograms. In music, we drill note names and scales and rhythms.
Repetition has an even greater importance in theology, perhaps because theology is, or should be, essential to an education. I can recite the catechism only thanks to my parents’ relentless quizzing of my brothers and me. The liturgy is the great repetition of the Church, a Sunday after Sunday education for the congregation. Do you know the liturgy by heart after hearing it countless times? Good. Then you know several Bible passages by heart, you have words to confess your sins, you can recall good prayers easily, and you know the wonderful and serious joy that is the Sacrament of the Altar.
The Church Year
One element of the liturgy especially comes to mind after hearing my school’s verse of the year:
“These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Hearing these words always transports me to the pew of my childhood churches, standing to sing these words preceding the Gospel in Divine Service, Setting Four. But more than that, these words bring to mind the other great repetition of the Church: the Church Year.
The Church Year takes us through the life of Christ on a yearly basis. What are the things spoken of in that verse of John’s Gospel? The things or signs mentioned here refer to the works of Jesus recorded in that book. The Church Year is based on those signs and works of Jesus from all of the Gospels, but it extends beyond the Gospels as well. In Advent, we begin the Church Year by looking for the coming of Jesus foretold in the Old Testament, as well as by looking for His second coming. As we move through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, we follow the life of Christ recorded in the Gospels. Pentecost tells the story recorded in Acts, while the long season of Trinity is a time in which we hear about the miracles of Christ. Before we know it, we are hearing about the end times before beginning everything over again with Advent. It is a constant, repetitious, educational, glorious cycle.
What is the point?
Why is the Church Year so important? The Church Year teaches us the life of Christ, our salvation, through repetition. It teaches us to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The Church Year does not grant salvation, neither does following it to a T earn us a place in heaven; rather, it invites us into the life of Christ, the life we are called to emulate, and grants those events a place in our sense of time. Just as in a Sunday service, we experience things with all five senses—we see the colors and the movements, we hear the Word, we smell the candles, we taste the bread and wine, we touch the physical building—so, too, the Church Year makes the life of Christ tangible for us in a way by taking planned and specific time and season for each important event recorded in Scripture.
Someone once asked me what was so important about Lent and Ash Wednesday. It seemed to this person that people felt as though they had to go to church on Ash Wednesday to receive the ashes on their forehead. This person celebrated Christmas and Easter, but he didn’t recognize the extravagant gift of the Church Year. Again, the Church Year does not grant salvation; it is not something we have to do. But if it is Christ who grants salvation, would we not want to ensconce ourselves in His life and follow the story of the salvation of the world continuously? It is not necessary, but it is good and joyful. Good food and drink beyond the basic nourishment we need to survive is not necessary, but who would pass up a Thanksgiving feast, a glass of good wine, or a warm, fresh loaf of bread? Beautiful clothes are not necessary to live, but then why are we drawn to a gorgeous gown or a sleek tux? The Church Year is a beauty and a joy far exceeding these things, and it is ours. Why would we shun it?
Hymns of the Church Year
And, of course, let’s bring it back to music. For how can one separate the Church Year and the wonderful hymns that bring it into our mouths and our ears and our hearts? Indeed, we are all familiar with the minuscule words on the top corner of each Lutheran Service Book hymn that denote its season or topic. Hymns grant us an additional repetition of the Word of God and even provide a sense of the great festivals of the year simply by us hearing them. For example, think about “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and which event in the life of Christ immediately springs to mind? What about “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”? Our music guides the way along the Church Year and encourages memorization of the life of Christ.
Repeat, repeat, repeat! God never tires of our repetition. Indeed, it was He who created a world in which the sun rises and sets day after day after day and in which the seasons continuously run. The Church Year is His great gift to us, not because it is necessary, but because He extravagantly gives to us that which is good.
To start your exploration of the repetition found in the Church Year, download this year’s Church Year Calendar for the one-year or three-year lectionary below.