From Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Galatians 4:8-11 (NRSV) – February 4, 2013.)
We are still reading through Paul’s correspondence with my Celtic friends of Anatolia. And, again, Paul is exasperated with them. They seem to be backsliding. I must admit, however, to some confusion here. Paul complains that they are “observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.” What, I wonder, is wrong with that? Certainly the Jews, from whom Paul and Jesus came, observed special times, feasts, and seasons; and I’m pretty certain the earliest Christians observed Sunday as a “special day” – we still do.
Paul’s point, I know, is that the observance of “special days” in and of itself is not a meritorious work earning one salvation. But human beings need holidays — holy days — to mark the passage of time, to give it significance and meaning, to remember and perpetuate momentous events, to honor the cycles of life, not as meritorious acts but as memorials. The observance of “special days” creates a connectedness to other people and gives life events a spiritual meaning.
With some clergy colleagues I’m reading a book about being overly busy, especially as ordained ministers. In it the author includes this quotation (and I’m sorry I don’t know who it’s from): “Time is about God and the universe and all things human. Time is everywhere and it permeates everything: the cosmos, our solar system, the earth’s past, present and future, sociological existence. As such it has suffused knowledge since the dawn of humanity. It has occupied such a central place in the history of ideas and cultural practice because the temporality of being confronts us with the immemorial, existential issues of life and death, origin and destiny.”
While time itself is not sacred, times are redeemed and sanctified as human beings celebrate and participate in the eternal by “observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.” These sacralized times join us as Christians in the Body of Christ across the generations, draw the worshiping community into a broader union with Christ, and connect us with the world. Sanctified and redeemed time focuses Christians on the great feasts celebrating the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, events which we find echoed in the events of our own lives.
The observance of certain days in not in itself meritorious, but it can be redemptive. We human beings need our special days.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.