I love the Church calendar... not the one on the church website or in the bulletin with lists of activities and services but the liturgical calendar, the calendar of seasons. The seasons--Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Pentecost (these may vary depending on tradition)--provide a sort of sabbatical rhythm. They give us a chance to embrace a rhythm of resting and working, celebrations and disciplines.
For example, Advent is a season in which we are invited to look at our world and see where it aches for something new and to anticipate, with open hands, the coming of the newborn king who brings with him life and salvation. We are invited to celebrate with our hands as we give generously and, with joyful and shameless persistence, insist that the patterns of oppression and death do not have the last word. The season of Lent invites us to look inwardly and see the things in us which need to be put to death (Colossians 3:5-14) and to acknowledge our overwhelming dependence on God--to recognize that we cannot do this on our own and that it's only the love of God that can change our hearts. So we enter the season with renewed dependence upon God as we discover ways in which we can be made new and healed. We take up or give up some practice or habit in order to re-tune our hearts to the heart of God. We remember that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a poor man from Nazareth, we can never be the same and new life is celebrated as it bursts forth among us, surprising us once again with fresh grace.
These seasons provide space for our walls to be brought down and for our hearts to de-thaw in the warmth of God's love. But, ironically, that other church calendar... you know, the one on the website and in the newsletter... usually undermines those seasons. Year in and year out, we compile list upon list of one activity after another. A fund-raiser here, an appreciation brunch there. Committee meetings in the evening and prayer breakfasts in the morning. Tables to set up and to put away, things to buy and things to sell. The church enters not into the life-giving rhythm of sabbatical simplicity but into the exhausting business of busyness. Rather than allowing ourselves to stop and focus our vision in one direction, we spin ourselves in a swivel chair and try to do everything at once. Everything we do is good but that's just the problem... we're doing everything! Our pastors are burnt out and our leaders are overburdened.
The simplicity of the gospel, the invitation to "come" and "find rest for your soul" (Matthew 11:28-30) gets lost in the complexity of doing church. The Church needs a "revival"--not the kind with tents and "healings" but one of true healing--a revival of simplicity. We need to slow ourselves and find a rhythm of work and rest, of celebration and discipline. Perhaps finding a "new way forward" is overrated. Perhaps a step back is in order, a return to the other church calendar.