The Church Year at Zion

The foundation our life together is “The people of Zion live from Jesus’ Word and Sacraments…so that we and our children would endure in the faith until the Resurrection.” That’s why every Sunday morning we gather to hear Jesus’ Word and partake of the Sacraments in the Divine Service.

Learn more about the liturgy of the Divine Service here.

We also observe the ancient Church Year, which leads us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus from promise to manger, from cross to empty tomb, from Ascension to return.

Throughout the Church year we have additional services and celebrations. 

As we move through the church year at Zion you’ll notice other changes in each season. You can see and hear the difference. The colors in the sanctuary shift as well as the sounds and songs of the services. You’ll notice these little things, signs pointing us to the big thing that gives us the church: the Life we receive from God’s Son.

Listening to the Scripture readings, you’ll hear familiar stories again and again. The church year also brings us face to face with all aspects of Christian life, even the parts that don’t seem so pleasant. Repeated every year, we gradually begin to grasp more firmly how Christ encompasses our entire life, highs and lows, inside and outside the church building, and better learn to turn to him in every circumstance. Hearing the whole story of God’s redemptive plan for us time and again trains us to be able to answer when people ask about the hope that is in us.

Through all these things, as well as through the special Holy Days that mark important people and events in the history of the church, the church year connects us to every generation of Christians that have come before us. Many of them have lived through the church year as we do today. We see how we ourselves are part of God’s plan for this age. We learn how we share the hope of our brothers and sisters who have persevered and are now with Christ in heaven. We witness God continuing His work in each generation to come until Jesus returns and brings us all together to live with Him for eternity.

Observing the church year enriches Zion’s worship and prepares us well for to live and serve as God’s people. Beginning in Advent, the encroaching darkness of the world drives us to our knees in penitential prayer. But as the church year reminds us again and again, no matter how bitter this season of the world may be, it will end, and Christ will come again.

Keep reading to learn more about the rhythm and meaning of each season of the Church Year.

The following introductions are adapted from The Lord Will Answer: A Daily Prayer Catechism.


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Begins four Sundays before Christmas

During Advent Zion shares midweek meals on Wednesdays at 6pm, followed by a 7pm Evening Prayer service.

“Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus”, meaning “coming.” Adventus signifies the approach of someone of dignity, power, and glory, someone who has the power to bestow favor or exact penalties.

For Christians, the season of Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, a time of patient waiting for the reappearing of Christ, and a time to cultivate the gift of patience for daily life.

At church and at home, we light Advent candles to count the weeks before Christmas. From Advent through the season of Easter, the Gospel readings at church focus on the life of Jesus. Read Bible stories to children each day.

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12 days beginning December 25

Zion has a Lessons & Carols program the week of Christmas. Our Christmas Eve Service starts at 7pm. Our Christmas Day Divine Service starts at 10am (and we sing LOTS of hymns!)

The Twelve Days of Christmas always fall on December 25—January 5. “Christmas” means “Christ Mass,” that is, the liturgy celebrated on the day when Christ came among us as one of us. The Church celebrates the mystery of salvation revealed in Christ’s birth, rather than the birthday itself. We celebrate the mystery of God become man in Christ, who is both our King and Servant. 

The Christmas season also places special emphasis on the name of the Lord our God because Jesus would have received His name eight days after His birth when He was circumcised.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary was with child through the Holy Spirit, the angel also told Joseph what to name the Child: Jesus, which means the LORD saves (Mt. 1:20-21). Eight days after Jesus’ birth, when He was circumcised, Joseph and Mary named Jesus as the angel had instructed.

The color white symbolizes the joy and the theme of light that plays so large a part in the biblical texts associated with the season. Christmas carols also express the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth.

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Begins January 6

Zion celebrates with an Epiphany Divine Service on January 6. Unless the 6th is a Sunday, we will have an evening service at 7pm.

The Greek word “epiphaneia” refers to the appearance of a god among mortals. The same word was adapted to describe the visit of a king to a favored city. He was greeted with pomp. Days were spent in feasting and revelry, all at the king’s expense.

The epiphany of Jesus is the Lord’s gracious appearance to His people with signs and wonders and favors given at His own expense. Epiphany is about the Magi, the gathering of the Gentiles as God’s people. It is also about the Baptism of our Lord, who prepares the waters of Baptism for us. Epiphany is about Jesus’ first sign or miracle performed at Cana to bless a marriage.

Epiphany always begins on January 6th. The length of the season depends on the date of Easter. The last Sunday in Epiphany is always Transfiguration Sunday.  For Epiphany Day and the first Sunday after Epiphany Day the color is white, symbolizing joy and purity. For the rest of the Epiphany season [until the Transfiguration of our Lord], the color is green, the color of life and growth.

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Begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter.

Zion holds a Devine Service on Ash Wednesday at 7pm. Throughout the season of Lent we share midweek meals on Wednesdays at 6pm, followed by a 7pm Vespers service. On Saturdays we have a  Service of Corporate Confession & Absolution. Pastor will remain in the sanctuary for a time after these services, available for any who come for Individual Confession & Absolution.

The word “lent” has its origin in the same root as one of the German words for “spring,” Lenz. As nature awakens from the death of winter, so the Christian finds newness of life in Christ, rising from sin’s death.

During the 40 days of Lent (Sundays are not counted), God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the paschal feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.

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Holy Week
Begins a week before Easter

Zion's Palm Sunday Divine Service begins with the whole congregation processing into the sanctuary while singing. During this service we receive new candidates for Confirmation and First Communion.

We celebrate a Maundy Thursday Divine Service at 7pm. At the end of this service the altar is stripped and all leave in silence.

Our Good Friday services include a 3pm Chief Service and 7pm Tenebrae service (during which the sanctuary gradually darkens). Both services begin and end in silence.

The Easter Vigil begins in darkness at 11pm on Saturday night and concludes in the joy of Easter morning at about 1am.

No other week in the Church year has so strong an aura of special devotion. The eight days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday immerse us in the central mystery of God’s work of salvation through the Lord’s death and resurrection.

Holy Week contains in itself not only the final days of Lent but also the celebration of the Passion of Christ. The week thus faces both back to the very beginning of Lent, and forward to the 50-day celebration of the resurrection, which is sealed on the Day of Pentecost.

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Begins in March or April

Zion's Easter Day Divine Service begins at the normal 10:30am time. It includes LOTS of hymns and special music. Our Ascension Divine Service is at 7pm on the Thursday night 40 days after Easter.

Easter is always the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21 [the Spring Equinox]. Easter may fall as early as March 22 and as late as April 25.

Easter is the chief feast of the Christian year, though in many cultures and even in many churches, Christmas may seem to overshadow it. The world can find something to celebrate in Christmas, but it is baffled by the Day of the Resurrection of Our Lord.

Lent was a time of preparation, the Triduum [Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday] was a time of participation in the Pasch [Passover] of Christ, and Easter is a 50-day celebration of the new life given through Christ. The celebration begins at the Easter Vigil and culminates on the Day of Pentecost.

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The Pentecost Season
Begins in May or June

Zion observes serveral special services throughout this long season:

  • Pentecost & Holy Trinity are special Sunday Divine Services at the normal time.

  • Reformation Day—observed on the last Sunday in October—celebrates the gift of the Gospel which we treasure as part of our Lutheran heritage. Expect strong Reformation-era hymns and an Octoberfest-themed potluck.

  • All Saints’ Day—observed on the first Sunday of November—is when we remember and give special thanks for those who have died in the faith. During the prayers we thank God for each Zion member who has died during that year.

  • Thanksgiving Day Divine Service starts at 10am and is followed by a Thanksgiving Feast potluck.

Pentecost is a Greek term meaning “fifty”, referring to the Old Testament feast held 50 days after Passover.

Christians celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter. On Pentecost the Lord poured out His Spirit upon the church. The gift of God, once limited to a chosen few, was given to all. The intimacy of the Father and Son is ours. Bound together in Christ, we are received into most intimate fellowship with the Father. By the Spirit’s testimony through us, the world will be called to repentance.

Red is the color of Pentecost. White is the color of Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. The color for the rest of the season is green for new life and growth. During the Pentecost season, the Gospel readings at church focus on the teachings of Jesus. On Trinity Sunday we confess the Athanasian Creed.

The last three Sundays of the Church year focus on mortality, suffering in a hostile world, and the promise that Christ will return to deliver us. The Third-Last Sunday always falls seven Sundays before Christmas.

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Saints' Days
Scattered throughout the Church Year

At Zion we periodically observe saints' days.

In addition to the seasons of the Church Year there are also single days and dates that we observe in all the seasons—the Saints’ Days. A certain day of the year is set aside to remember the life and blessing of a certain great Christian of the past. This is also a reminder to us that the Christians on earth and in heaven make up one Church. The color of most of the saint days is red—the color of blood—because most that we remember were killed on account of their confession of faith in Christ. As Lutherans we do not worship the saints or pray to them but we do honor and remember them.  

Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way: Our confession approves honors to the saints. For here is a three-fold honor to be given. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God that He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church… The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial of Peter we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5.20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which everyone should imitate according to his calling. (Apology [Explanation] of the Augsburg Confession, Article 21)

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