Yesterday, Sunday November 20, brought the year to a close. Unless you are Jewish, in which case the greeting is about a month and a half late.
And all my Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and other “high church” readers are nodding and winking at the confusion.
You see, for those who follow the traditional western liturgical year, in 2017 Christ the King Sunday fell on November 20. It is the last feast of the church year and symbolizes the end of time, when Jesus will return as King of Kings and bring the present world to a close as G-d establishes the New Jerusalem described in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation. Next Sunday, November 27, is the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks of waiting and anticipation that begin the church year anew. Different way to look at the calendar, isn’t it?
When does the year begin? For westerners, January 1 is the start of the secular year. For a long time some places considered April 1 to be the beginning of the year, because that’s when Spring becomes fairly well apparent in most of the northern hemisphere. Notice that by the current calendar, April 1 and January 1 are spaced similar distances after the equinox and solstice respectively. And spring is the time of new life, and of birth, so why not spring? On the other hand, you had the Celtic and Jewish traditions that place the end of the year and the start of the next in autumn, during or after harvest. The Muslim calendar is strictly lunar, so it floats in a way that the Jewish calendar does not, and there the new year varies all over the place. In Asia the new year tends to come in late winter/early spring on a fixed lunar calendar.
We also have other, more personal and local calendars. There are planting and harvest if you live in rural areas, and “trauma season” for paramedics in those areas (when winter-wheat harvest coincides with high school graduation and vacation season, the rate of farm accidents, and vehicular accidents and their aftermath increases). Teachers and parents of kids live on the school calendar.
Yesterday was interesting in a way. In addition to the Christ the King Sunday, the congregation also had a Thanksgiving celebration in the evening. I’ll talk more about it later this week, but the hymn “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” is about harvest and about the end time, both of which have an element of sorting the wheat from the chaff and weeds. One thing I like about living in areas with an agricultural presence is that the cycle of the year has more meaning than it seems to in large urban areas, at least now. It seems fitting to celebrate the end of time and the end of the most important farm work in the same span of days. There’s still work to be done, of course, but the harvest is in and you know if it has been a good or bad year. There’s no more uncertainty, whatever the outcome. If it was good, you hope for another good year to come. If it was bad, there’s always next year (farmers and Cubs fans share a similar philosophy in some ways.) But for this year, the harvest has brought it to a close.
So, for some of my readers, happy liturgical new year! For others, I hope your harvest has been safe and productive. For all, it’s time to raise the song of harvest home.