"Semesters" - Message from the Pastor

“Semesters”

The month of June means the end of the spring semester as the school year finishes up here in Northern Virginia. Students and teachers are more than ready for the summer break! As the summer season stretches out before us, we look forward to a more relaxed schedule, travel, family gatherings, and vacations.

I have an interest in word origins – where they come from, what they originally meant, how they have come down to us today. The name for this is “etymology.” With the end of the school year, that word “semester,” which we associate so much with academic learning, has an interesting background. It comes from two Latin words meaning “six months” (sex – “six,” and mensis – “month”). And that is the etymology of our word semester.

Within the life of the Body of Christ, the church, there are also two semesters. These are called “the Lord’s half year” (Semester Domini) and “the Church’s half year” (Semester Ecclesiae). For many centuries and in many places throughout the world, Christ’s people have ordered their time and their worship according to the life of Jesus. That is what “the Lord’s half year” is about as we follow Jesus’ life and ministry, his suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the festival half of the church year that includes the three main celebrations of Christmas (the gift of God the Father), Easter (the resurrection of God the Son), and Pentecost (the coming of the God the Holy Spirit). This semester runs from December through May, and includes the seasons of Advent and Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy Week, Ascension. All of these festivals in this first half of the church year reveal how Christ has accomplished our salvation.

The second semester, the Church’s half year, focuses on our response to all that God in Christ has done for us as we “continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18a). This is sometimes called the “green season,” because green is the liturgical on the altar for this long season that stretches from June through November. As the natural world around us grows and flourishes (think plants, trees, and flowers), so God’s people grow and flourish in our faith as we are sustained by God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Plants, trees, and flowers require regular care and feeding to help them grow. It is no different with God’s people who also require regular care and feeding in order to grow in our faith toward God and in our love toward one another. We are now entering this long green season, which does include a few festival days toward the end of this semester: Reformation, All Saints, and Christ the King (the final Sunday of the church year).

Although this is a time-honored system, does this mean that this is the only way to worship? Of course not. There is freedom in the Gospel to seek out fresh ways to worship that are Spirit-led. We need to be open to exploring these so that we do not become rigid and inflexible, shutting out new expressions of worship that will honor and glorify our Lord. The truth, I would say, is seeking out a healthy balance between what is familiar and time-honored and what is new and as yet unfamiliar. If we never explored new songs and hymns, new settings for worship, new ways to praise our God, we would most assuredly stifle the Holy Spirit who calls us and keeps us in this one true faith.

Here at St. John’s, a Worship Life Task Force is coming together and will meet for the first time this month to explore how we can “create well-run, musically rich, family friendly corporate worship service environments, where people feel welcomed, valued, and experience God through Word and Sacrament.” Our goal is to “meet people where they are; in a way that is intelligible in their cultural setting” and “provide avenues into corporate gathering for those who physical presence on campus might be challenged for a variety of reasons.” Please join with me in praying for wisdom and guidance from the Lord upon the work of the Task Force so that the Lord may be glorified and his people may be blessed.