The Rhythm of the Christian Calendar: A Guide for Teaching

We all have rhythms that orient our lives. Most countries have a calendar of holidays that help the nation build a common identity. In America, we have Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving, among others. Each of these holidays helps to tell a part of the American story. Especially with Independence Day and Thanksgiving, we have common rituals that are forms of storytelling and celebration. To be American is to set off fireworks on the 4th of July and to eat a large dinner of turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

We even have rhythms that inform what we teach our students. Sometimes those rhythms are driven by the summer schedule or by a myriad of other things. With the pressures of life, it can be hard to adequately craft a teaching rhythm that will help shape our students into Christ-like students.

For centuries, churches have turned to the seasons of the Christian Calendar and the Lectionary to provide its teaching rhythm.

The seasons of the Christian Calendar can help our students learn the story of Christianity and develop in them habits that will help them enact that story as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Not only that, they can help you as you seek to offer solid teaching each week. Using the Christian Calendar and the texts suggested for each week, you will develop a solid rhythm of teaching.

What are the seasons of the Christian calendar you ask? Chances are, you already know the basics – seasons like Advent and Easter. Below is a brief introduction to each season. There is a lot of variation in the Christian Calendar from church to church, so what follows is a general outline meant to serve as an introduction. At the end of the post, there will be a few links to helpful online resources.

The Christmas Cycle

Advent – Waiting for the Messiah:
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the long-expected Messiah. During Advent, we focus on scriptures that help us anticipate the birth of Jesus. At the same time, Advent is a time of waiting for Christ to come again. There are four Sundays in Advent. The passage of time during Advent is usually marked by the lighting of the different colored candles of the Advent Wreath, which culminates in the lighting of the center, white Christ Candle on Christmas Eve. The seasonal color for Advent is Purple.

Christmas – Celebrating the Messiah’s Birth:
You’ve probably heard the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. The season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and lasts for twelve days. During the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That’s the time to sing all those great Christmas songs! The color of the season of Christmas is white or gold.

Epiphany – Getting to know the Messiah:
In Advent, we awaited the coming of Jesus, and in Christmas, we celebrated his birth and the beginning of our salvation. As the name implies, Epiphany is a revealing of something. What’s revealed to us in this season is the nature and mission of Jesus. The passages usually explored are ones that help us to know Jesus in a deeper way. Epiphany begins on January 6th and spans between four and nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter Sunday. The color for the season of Epiphany is green.

The Easter Cycle

Lent – Preparing for the Messiah’s Death:
Like Advent, Lent is a time of waiting and preparation. Only this time, we’re waiting not for Jesus’ arrival but for his death and resurrection. Generally, the season is a time of reflection and introspection as we evaluate our lives in the light of who Christ is and what he’s called us to be. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday as we confess our finite sinfulness. During this time of confession and repentance, we focus on allowing the Holy Spirit to root out any sin that remains in us.

Traditionally, Lent has been a time for fasting. The point of the fast is to help us more deeply reflect on our own sinfulness and our desire to become more Christ-like. In addition to giving something up, adding acts of mercy or charity to the normal routine is also common. Lent can have the tendency to be dark, but if you are attentive to its rhythm, it can be quite transformational. The season of Lent ends with three holy days sometimes referred to as the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. On Good Friday, the Christ Candle we lit on Christmas Day is extinguished, symbolizing Christ’s death. The color for the season of Lent is purple.

Easter – Celebrating the Messiah’s Resurrection:
As the journey of Lent ends with the death of Jesus, Easter begins with his resurrection. The white Christ Candle is relit, symbolizing Jesus coming back to life. The season of Easter lasts eight Sundays and culminates on Ascension Sunday celebrating Jesus’ ascension to be with the Father, never to die again. The color for the season of Easter is white.

Pentecost and Common Time:
The first two cycles of the church year, the Christmas Cycle, and the Easter Cycle tell us the story of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. Now that Jesus has gone to be with the Father, we begin to tell part two of the story – the story of the Church, beginning with the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on Jesus’ followers. The weeks after Pentecost tell the triumphant yet sometimes harrowing story of the church’s movement from Jerusalem to Judea, and to the ends of the earth. The color for Pentecost Sunday is red, while the color for Common Time is green.

Personally, as I have taught and been taught using the rhythm of the Christian Calendar, I have grown much deeper in my faith. I’m confident that you and your ministry will benefit from this rhythm, too.


Jason Buckwalter