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Posted by on Jul 6, 2016 | 0 comments

Through the Church Year


Below is a detailed liturgy for a single Sunday morning service that walks a congregation through the entire Church calendar from Advent through Reign of Christ.  Through Word, explanation, and song, this service is a worshipful way to educate and to help a multi-generational congregation to participate in the rhythms and patterns of the liturgical year.  It was originally used in 2006 for a United Church of Christ congregation in Massachusetts.

(Note: *= Stand as you are able) 

Order of Worship 

Prelude & Meditation Time

Greetings, Announcements

Joys & Concerns


We keep track of time and seasons of the year using calendars. The church year has a calendar, too.  The yearly cycle provides a structure in which we tell the story of Jesus and of the people of God over the course of a year.  As a congregation moves through the church year, they are given the opportunity, in an organized way to talk about, reflect upon, and respond to the entire range of faith confessions that lie at the heart of the Christian Journey.

The Christian calendar has two phases. The first is Sacred Time: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; and Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The rest of the year following Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time, from the word “ordinal,” which simply means counted time (First Sunday after Pentecost, etc.).  Ordinary Time focuses on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world.

Today, we shall walk through the whole year in one service.  There will be a brief description of the season and then a hymn, a short scripture reading or a prayer. Because of that, the typical order of the service will be altered today.

We live on a planet that turns.  Cycles are part of human life.  But behind these cycles is the ultimate Mystery we call God.   So we begin today by rooting our worship in Praise and Awe of that Holy Mystery

 Hymn:  “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (v.1)

Children’s Time

Explain that different colors are associated with different seasons.   The vestments the pastor wears provide visual clues for the seasons.  So, as part of the service,  the pastor will change his/her vestments and others will change the altar cloths.

Advent (Blue/Purple)

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.”  For four Sundays before Christmas, we focus on waiting and preparing for the birth of Jesus the Christ, The First Advent.  Waiting for a new baby can be an exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and awe-inspiring experience.   But we’d rather wait than have an unhealthy premature infant.

Advent, like pregnancy, is a very concrete, practical time of preparation and at the same time, it is an encounter with sacred realities much greater than us. The joy of new birth is connected with so many other concerns: infertility and childlessness, physical changes and stages of life, anguish over health and grief over miscarriage, fears about the world into which a baby comes, and anxieties about parenting and providing, to name a few.  Into this mixture of awe and joy, anxiety and anguish — Jesus, the light of the world, is born.

Advent also anticipates the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.   Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God: the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.  Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.

It used to be that the color of Advent is Purple, the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King.  But because purple is used for Lent, many now use Blue  for Advent…  like the night sky awaiting the beginning of new creation.

So, we hear a scripture reading from Advent

Scripture: Isaiah  40:3, Hymn: “Come O Long Expected Jesus” (v. 1)

Christmas Eve (White)

On Christmas Eve, we celebrate the Incarnation,  God with us as a human …  as the most vulnerable human,  a baby.

Scripture: John 1: 14, Hymn: “Silent Night” (v. 1)

Christmastide (White)

Christmas day is a time to acknowledge the birth that has happened, and to whole-heartedly receive this gift from God. We celebrate with amazement and abandon joy. Happy Birthday Jesus and thank you God!   While we most often think about Christmas as a single day, it is actually a season of the year. Contrary to advertising campaigns that tout Christmas as beginning with Advent (or Halloween!), the actual Christmas Season in most Western church traditions begins at sunset on Christmas Eve, December 24, and lasts through January 5. Since this time includes 12 days, the season of Christmas is known in many places as the Twelve Days of Christmas.   The colors are white and gold.

Scripture: Luke 2:11  For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; And his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, the everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Hymn: “Joy to the World” (v.1)

Epiphany (White)

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany.  In Hispanic and Latin culture, it is known as Three Kings’ Day.   The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the magi, bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world {not just to Jews}  as Lord and King.

In the darkness of night, the Magi were directed by a bright light to Bethlehem. Coming from the heavens, the light led them to the child Jesus, the Messiah. God helped the Magi to fulfill their mission. Even though they were strangers in a strange land, even though they were tired and fatigued, they didn’t give up their mission. In life, we too take different roads to fulfill our dreams and hopes. When we trust in God, the Spirit guides us. We are called to hear the voice of God, follow the light, and journey everyday in faith.

The Season of Ephinany extends for six week.  It includes the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration.   The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year.

Scripture:   Isaiah 60:3,6 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.   A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Hymn: “We Three Kings” (v.1)

First Ordinary Time (Green)

Some years there is a block of time between Ephinany and Lent that is called Ordinary or “Counting”  time.  When that happens,  the color is changed to Green.  It is a time that celebrate Jesus teaching and healing.

Scripture: Matthew 5: 1-11, Hymn: “I Love to Tell the Story” (v.1)

Ash Wednesday (Purple)

In the ancient church, the forty days of Lent was a time of intense preparation for baptism and a  time of renewal and penitence for the baptized. The season begins on Ash Wednesday when  the community of faith is confronted with its absolute dependence on God who gives breath to  each and to the whole community itself. In that Spirit, let us bow our head, place our fingers on our foreheads – where the ashes would be  and pray together the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father…Amen.

Lent (Purple)

Lent is a season when we explore the costs and joys of discipleship.  Here we hear the tough calls to “take up your cross and follow” and then acknowledge that we, like the disciples don’t really get it, that we fail to understand, that we have some faith – but not what we could or are called to –

We hear stories about Nicodemus asking, What must we do to inherit eternal life.   Yes, we may do some of the rules,  but totally submission, selling all we have,  that seems beyond us.   But in this Lent time,  we dare to go deeper,  to look at our hopes and our fears.

The color used in the sanctuary for most of Lent is purple, a color to symbolize both the pain and suffering leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus as well as the suffering of humanity and the world under sin.  But purple is also the color of royalty, and so anticipates through the suffering and death of Jesus the coming resurrection and hope of newness that will be celebrated in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Scripture: Luke 13: 2-3, Hymn: “Just as I Am” (v. 1)

Palm Sunday (Purple)

Holy Week is the last week of Lent, the week immediately preceding Easter Sunday.  Palm Sunday observes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowd, in Jerusalem for Passover, waved palm branches and proclaimed.. in the words of Mark 11:10; “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Only five days later the crowd cried for Jesus’ execution. ‘Crucify him, crucify him!”   This is a sobering reminder of the human tendency to want God to have God be the master of Good feelings rather than someone who challenges us and the authorities in the culture

Scripture: (see above), Hymn: Ride On, Ride On in Majesty  (v. 1)

Maundy Thursday (White)

The week between Sunday and Thursday the confrontation with the powers of the Jewish Synagogue intensified.  It was Passover and the disciples were celebrating the Jewish Seder …  the remembrance of how God passed over the Jews when l the plague killing first born spread over Egypt, passed over houses where lambs blood was over the door way.  The Seder that remembered how Moses led the Hebrews to freedom.

This time it is Jesus who will lead God’s Passover of us. Jesus will be the lamb of God. This Passover Seder was Jesus’ last supper and the time of prayer in Garden Gethsemane.

Scripture: Matthew 26:39, Hymn: Go to Dark Gethsemane  (v. 1)

Good Friday (Black/None)

In the middle of the night,  Jesus is captured.  He then is paraded from one official to the next.   He was condemned to death, whipped, taunted, nailed to the cross and died after three hours of incredible suffering.  It is through the Good Friday story that we know that God is able to be with anyone in the midst of any suffering, in the midst of any kind of violence.  God understands.

Scripture: Luke 23:33 -34, Hymn: Were You There? (v.1)

Confession (in unison)

Most merciful God, we  confess that we have sinned against thee in thought and word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole hearts;  we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.   For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;  that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.  Amen 

Holy Saturday (Black/None)

period of waiting…silence…

Easter (White)

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is God’ victory over sin and death. It is the act of assurance of forgiveness.   It is the way gives us freedom, in the faith that God’s power will win in the end, no matter what. Resurrection promises a new life in any circumstance …  and encourages us to live into God’s Present – and God’s Presence. (Note: a special celebration stole can be worn – gold and white). 

Scripture: John 20:17, Hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today (v.1)

Eastertide (White)

Easter tide is the forty-nine days between Easter Day and Pentecost.  It was during this time that the disciples encountered the Post- Resurrection Jesus:  on the road to Emmaus.  This is the season where we build our relationship with a Easter Jesus – who calls us to confront doubts – as Thomas did,  who encourages us to love his sheep – as he did with John,  where we begin to figure out how to live now with the Resurrected Jesus us In us, with us and through us.  The color is white

Scripture: Unison Psalm 23 (from psalter with sung responses)

Pentecost (Red)

Pentecost is when we the Holy Spirit descends …  It’s another kind of birth or identity story.   Filled with the breath of God and set on fire by the Holy Spirit,  the disciples, as a community,  become like Jesus.  Some preach, some pray, some make dinner,  some heal,  so gather the money and share it as needed.    Now it is many bodies together that are call to be show God to the world.  The Color is Red…

Scripture: Acts 2: 1-4, Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (v.1)

Silent Prayer

Trinity Sunday (White/Green)

The Sunday after Pentecost, many churches celebrate Trinity Sunday. The time when our understanding of God as Three in One is celebrated.   We sing and claim this mysterious communion.   Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit…   Father, Son and Holy Ghost…Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy ( v.1)

Season after Pentecost (Green)

The longest season of the year is called Ordinary time or the Season of Pentecost.  The color is green, the color of growth, the color of life on earth   This season of Pentecost has two phases or foci —  One is discipleship and the other is mission.

Kingdom Tide  – Discipleship:  One of the major emphases of the time after Pentecost is teaching people what it means to be disciples of Christ.  In response to what we have been given, it is a call to faithfulness in action:  developing spiritual gifts,  building community and deepening our understanding of the spiritual path and growing in our practice of stewardship – the choices we make with our time, talent and money.

Scripture: Matthew 22: 21b

Offering & Offertory


*Dedication & Thanksgiving

Kingdom Tide – Mission – The second half of Pentecost focuses on reaching out to people beyond our church.  It is when we emphasize that the church is Not about us,  it is about being the Body of Christ for the world.  It is about social justice and action as an expression of the Lordship of God over his people and the world.

Scripture: Amos 5:24

*Hymn: “We Shall Overcome” 1) We shall overcome.., 2)We are not afraid.., 3) We shall live in peace…

*Benediction & Response

As we open the doors of this sanctuary to return to our roles in the world, may we likewise throw open the doors of our hearts. Go forth from this place empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and to serve a world hungry for that love and service.


© Rev. Dr. Betsy Waters, 2016

Rev. Dr. Betsy Waters is an intentional interim minister in the United Church of Christ and a Parish Consultant in the United Methodist Church. She is a passionate advocate for the revitalizing of churches having worked in the field for thirty years. She is currently serving in the Massachusetts Conference, UCC.  Someday she will retire but she has been unsuccessful so far.

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