#LentTogether: Why I Introduced My Congregation to Liturgy

#LentTogether: Why I Introduced My Congregation to Liturgy

Russ Ramsey Lent Together bannerGuest Post by Russ Ramsey  for the #LentTogether Blog Series on Behind the Books

I was raised in a church that observed a liturgical calendar. I grew up seeing the color treatments in the sanctuary change with the seasons. I watched with impatience as the large Advent wreath in the middle of the room counted down the days until Christmas. And I knelt at the altar every Ash Wednesday as a priest pressed a cross of burnt palm fronds onto my forehead and whispered in Latin, “Remember, mortal, that you have to die.”

As a kid, I didn’t think a lot about the spiritual significance of these practices. And later, when I became a pastor, I joined a denomination that does not typically emphasize the liturgical calendar. But I have been pleased to see a kind of resurgence of the liturgical calendar—specifically for Advent and Lent—because I find that observing these seasons helps my spiritual development.

As a pastor, I include elements of the liturgical seasons in our corporate worship—the Advent wreath, Advent and Easter centered sermons, Palm Sunday services, Good Friday Tenebraes, and other liturgical features. And I also try to maintain a personal connection to these seasons—not merely as a pastor leading a congregation, but as a person following Jesus.

I also try to maintain a personal connection to these seasons—not merely as a pastor leading a congregation, but as a person following Jesus.

My personal approach to Advent and Lent is simple. I try to pay attention to the stories they emphasize. I attend special church services. I read the Biblical accounts of Christ’s nativity, passion, and resurrection. I read the words of the prophets who foretold his coming and his sacrifice. Outside of Scripture, I read books about the ministry of Christ. I focus my prayers on the seasons and what I’m learning. Of course, Advent and Lent are not the only seasons when a person should focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. My approach is to use these seasons to lean in to the stories they recall with intentionality.

Observing Advent and Lent, even in simple ways, introduces a rhythm to the year. These two seasons are intended to set our focus on the two most significant events in history—the birth and the death and resurrection of the Savior of the world. The rhythm of devoting two seasons per year to focus on the nativity and the cross help me in many ways. Here are three.

1. Observing Advent and Lent helps because life comes at us fast.

The pace we keep can be dizzying. Days, weeks, and months can come and go so quickly. If you were to ask me what happened during certain stretches of this past year, I might have to stop and think for a moment to remember. Intentionally focusing on the life, death, and resurrection of my Savior during these seasons has the effect of slowing the clock a bit. I need this rhythm in my life.

2. Another reason observing Advent and Lent helps is because in addition to life coming at us fast, it also brings with it pain.

In the words of Penny Baxter, to his son Jody in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ wonderful book, The Yearling, “Boy, life goes back on you.” We never know what trials lie around the corner. But we know they are there. We know pain, sorrow, and struggle will come. Following an annual rhythm of focusing on the work of Christ anchors me in truths I need to draw upon all the time. And I always will.

3. A third benefit I gain from the rhythm of Advent and Lent is how they help me practice the fundamentals of my faith.

The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life—prayer, Scripture reading, church life, service to others, etc.—are not simply things we do. They are things we practice. There are certain fundamentals Christians are meant to rehearse over and over again—like learning a musical instrument or an athletic skill. We are supposed to give our lives to practicing our faith, not just claiming it as a label. Observing a liturgical season is a way to concentrate on the essentials of the faith and practice spiritual disciples.

Observing a liturgical season is a way to concentrate on the essentials of the faith and practice spiritual disciples.

When the Apostle Paul landed on the shores of Corinth, he was weary and discouraged from a missionary journey that left him beaten, imprisoned, mocked, opposed, and dismissed. He told the Corinthian believers, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Though he could go toe to toe with the philosophers in Athens, or doctrine for doctrine with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Paul focused his mind and his message in Corinth on Christ and him crucified.

I think of Lent in the same light. It is a season of resolving to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. Sure, there is more to focus on, more to know. But there is nothing more worthy of our focus, and certainly nothing better to know.

About the Author

Russ RamseyRuss Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of the upcoming Retelling the Story Series, Struck, Behold the Lamb of God, and was awarded the 2016 Christian Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association for his book Behold the King of Glory. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and his writing has appeared at The Rabbit Room, The Gospel Coalition, The Blazing Center, and To Write Love on Her Arms.

Connect with Russ and read his blog at russ-ramsey.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Recommended Reading

Keeping PlaceKeeping Place by Jen Pollock Michel by Jen Pollock Michel is a book about intentionally practicing a ministry of presence. Jen connects the fundamental human longing for home with the story of the Bible, revealing a homemaking God with wide arms of welcome—and a church commissioned with this same work.

“Exploring the rhythms of plenty and loss, worship and work, routine and rest, Michel exhorts us, male and female, to be faithful homemakers until such time as we inhabit our true and final dwelling place. In a time when transience and individuality mark the lives of many, she offers here a worthy meditation for the people of God.” —Jen Wilkin, author of None Like Him