Christmas ended six weeks ago and Lent starts Wednesday.
We are currently in Epiphany, the season of the church year in which we journey with Jesus through the three years of public ministry he had on the earth.
Some traditions call this “Ordinary Time” to designate the time between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.
Reflecting on the seasons of the liturgical worship calendar brings to mind the different phases or seasons of ministry that Jesus had.
Phase one is the start-up when Jesus shows up on the scene and starts to get noticed by the public through his baptism, early miracles and calling of disciples.
He moves into the popularity phase as crowds gather to be healed and to listen. There is no doubt that the local and national media would want to interview him were he ministering today. Despite his mass appeal, his family thought he was nuts and out of control (see Mark 3:20-21).
Once the crowds have gathered and actually start listening to his teachings, his popularity wanes. This is phase three – the years of struggle and conflict.
In this period, it becomes clear that Jesus is not offering an easy, carefree path. He is not sugarcoating the message and buying a big stadium to house all the people who have flocked to him.
Instead, he is telling it like it is, telling them to count the cost and carry their cross (see Luke 14).
When the crowds begin to thin and his disciples question their commitment (see John 6:60-70), his advisers likely told him to change his communication strategy and urged him to repackage the message in more listener-friendly attire.
In this phase, the religious leaders also start to plot against him for disobeying Sabbath laws (see Mark 3:1-6) and Jesus escapes from the maelstrom of Jerusalem-based conflict.
The last phase of Jesus’ ministry is what we mark in Lent. The tide has turned and Jesus knows that his time is near. He begins the slow but intentional journey back to Jerusalem, knowing what awaits him (see Luke 9:51).
I wonder if these phases of Jesus’ ministry are illustrative of different dynamics Christ-followers face as they share God’s love in word and deed.
There are times of popularity and fruitfulness when it seems we move from success to success and are in the sweet spot of blessing.
Then there are other times when we bump into harder issues of discipleship and we need to make choices about how to stay faithful to the way of Jesus in a grace-filled but obedient manner.
And, perhaps, there are times when we need to walk into our Jerusalem with a servant-hearted spirit and raw trust in God, even knowing what may await us.
Maybe that’s why it’s important that we journey through the church year each year.
I’m not a “card-carrying” church year observer, especially since I tend toward being an iconoclast who loves re-inventing and innovation and am uncomfortable with any pattern that locks down creativity.
At the same time, as I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate the journey on which the church year takes us, and for many years now it has given shape to my personal prayer life and worship.
As I think of the various fields and places of ministry in which Christians are engaged, some are in times of obvious blessing and others are in times of obvious distress.
My prayer is that regardless of the phase, we will be faithful to our calling and to embodying and speaking the gospel.
Sam Chaise is the executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Cut to the Chaise, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @SamChaise_CBM.