TIME for a liturgical rant: my beef this week is with themed Sundays. There are many, and they are no doubt a godsend to those ministers who have abandoned the calendar, along with the liturgy, and need an endless supply of new “resources” to keep worship going week by week.
So we have Sea Sunday, Education Sunday, Racial Justice Sunday, Homeless Sunday, Back to Church Sunday. I can see the point of exploiting some of these, if they fit your particular context; but, for many, they are more of an opportunity for treating worship as a kind of magazine. There are colour features (readings, sermons), adverts (hymns), editorial (informal ministerial chat), and endless, endless meaningful intercessions.
I am even a bit iffy about the well-established themed Sundays: Mothering Sunday (nothing wrong with Refreshment Sunday and a bunch of flowers given out at the end), and Remembrance Sunday (fine for an ecumenical event at the war memorial, but not to dominate the day).
Even worse than themed Sundays are new seasons, such as the Creation Season (thank you, Patriarch Demetrios and Pope Francis). This is surely based on a misunderstanding: Ordinary Time, with its suggestive liturgical colour, is all about living in and with the created world. Any preacher sensitive to scripture can interpret what this means in a time of environmental crisis.
Although I am not keen on new seasons, the exception I might make is for the Kingdom Season (All Saints’ to Advent, as it is unhelpfully labelled by Common Worship), because it at least it gives an opportunity to wear the under-used red vestments, and to ensure that the themes of overcrowded Advent have a bit of space.
Themed Sundays have agendas. That is what they are for. They are a chance to put ourselves on the side of the nice and the good, to think well of ourselves by what has become known as virtue-signalling. The Christian year, however, is not for signalling our own virtues, or the lack of them. It is for attending to the redemptive work of God, revealed in scripture and through the experience of the Church.
The two great cycles of the Christian year — Advent to Epiphany and Lent to Pentecost — are Christological in focus. They show how time is redeemed by pointing towards heaven and the life of the world to come. Between and after those great cycles, though, is the graced reality of the present time: Ordinary Time, where we actually live now. It is OK in God’s sight to live in the now, with much that is unresolved, unredeemed, and unsettled. We do not need themed Sundays or extra seasons, just guidance and hope for the challenges of today.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford