Secular or Sacred Time?


Secular or Sacred Time?
Brian Zahnd

What is time? Time is the measurement of motion through space.

A day is the revolution of the earth.
A month is the revolution of the moon around the earth.
A year is the revolution of the earth around the sun.

But time as such is without any apparent meaning. Just a spinning planet with an orbiting moon orbiting a star…repeating the process for the past four and a half billion years.

To give time meaning we need a story. Without a story time is pointless and nihilism beckons. (I am of the opinion that the violence that goes under the guise of Islamic terrorism is more likely a form of nihilist rage disguised in religious robes…but that is another subject.)

For almost two thousand years the church has had the wisdom and creativity to mark time by the gospel story of Jesus. This is time made sacred. Thus the church calendar.

Advent anticipates the coming of Messiah.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Epiphany remembers the revelation of Christ to Gentiles.
Lent is the solemn journey to the cross.
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection.
Pentecost marks the birth of the church.
Ordinary Time (or Kingdom Time) leads us through the year and back to Advent.

How we tell time determines who we are. If you expect fireworks on the fourth day of the seventh month you are an American. Calendar creates culture.

The Greek calendar told the Greek story.
The Roman calendar told the Roman story.
The American calendar tells the American story.
The Jewish calendar tells the Jewish story.
The Christian calendar tells the Christian story.
The Islamic calendar tells the Islamic story.
The Secular calendar says there is no story — only politics and commerce.

I make a big deal about the church calendar because I want my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren to be formed by the gospel story of Jesus. To reduce the Christian calendar to a day for Christmas (a day when we don’t go to church) and a single Sunday for Easter is an almost total capitulation to secularism.

The fact that we are far more formed by the Fourth of July than by Trinity Sunday is ample evidence of our de facto secularism. The sad truth is that most Christians (myself included) are really secularists trying in varying degrees not to be secularists. If we hope to successfully swim against the overwhelming tide of secularism we need to return to the Great Tradition. For me the door back into the Great Tradition was the church calendar. The church calendar was the wardrobe that led me into the Narnia of the lost sacred.

So at Word of Life Church you can be sure we will be doing all we can to emphasize the four weeks of Advent and the twelve days of Christmas that lead to Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. We believe the Jesus story is the true story that saves the world. We believe this so deeply that it’s how we tell time.

Today is not Black Friday. Today is the Friday before Advent.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Happy Holy Days.


  • Great post! As a father, the holidays have become very important to me. I emphasize to my children the meaning of the Christian calendar. One of my boys always has the same answer when I ask why we celebrate Easter. He says, “It’s when Jesus beat death!” I love that. Of course there are more layers to it (he’s only just turned six), but he’s getting the reason that we celebrate. Something amazing happened, something radical, something that gives meaning to life! I also teach them that many of the Christian holidays were ways of subverting pagan holidays. That’s why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Christians took the celebration of winter solstice and made it about Jesus! The secular became sacred. The broken became healing. Jesus is “the true story that saves the world”!

  • Excellent, Joe!

  • Mitch Mitchell

    Excellent. Thanks BZ. Looking forward to prayer conference next year. MM

  • Normally I am not a fan of delineating secular and sacred. Plumber and Pastor both do sacred work. Yet I see where you are coming from and like the embracing of a sacred calendar that keeps us centered on the gospel story. Well done Brian.

  • Doug Page

    Brian, would you mind sharing the resources that you guys provide for people at WOLC? I saw the reading guide you had on your blog from a couple of years ago but wondered what else you might recommend.

  • Hi Brian
    I asked my friends at University Hill to send you this year’s Christian Seasons liturgical calendar. Hopefully they have arrived.
    For those who are not familiar with this beautiful gift to the church:
    “This unique calendar opens with the season of Advent and turns not with the twelve months but with the rhythm ofthe Christian seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Season after Pentecost.”

  • What about the colors that signify the liturgical year?

    Advent anticipates the coming of Messiah — purple or blue, representing the solemn preparation
    Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus — white or gold, symbolizing purity and joy
    Epiphany remembers the revelation of Christ to Gentiles — green, symbolizing life and growth
    Lent is the solemn journey to the cross — purple, representing the solemn preparation
    Easter is the celebration of the resurrection — white or gold, symbolizing purity and joy
    Pentecost marks the birth of the church — red, symbolizing tongues of fire
    Ordinary Time (or Kingdom Time) — green, symbolizing life and growth

  • Terry

    Brian, I couldn’t agree more and I so appreciate your putting this into words.

  • Loved this basic idea – map your life and the year of the church around the gospel story of Jesus, and let that from you. Thanks for sharing.

    Intrigued to hear more about the nihilist rage and linking that to Islam. I’m more familiar with the school of thought, that many of these acts are done by the true believers – the ones who actually read, understand, and submit to their book and follow the example of their man. Therefore, they are not being skeptics at all – they are simply obeying their book and following their man. So are the acts in religious robes or are the people just trying to be faithful to their beliefs??