Autumn is my favorite time of year. Autumn in New England, in terms of nature’s visual beauty, can’t be beat. September has my ordination anniversary, and October my birthday. And then there’s November with All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving, and the excitement for Advent to begin after that. And in the liturgical calendar, November is also an interesting time of year. Both the traditional calendar as well as the modern anticipate the transition from Trinitytide to Advent in the last couple weeks (or last few weeks) before Advent.
In the traditional calendar (assuming Trinitytide is long enough on a given year) you’ve got the culmination of the massive discipleship course on the 24th Sunday, where a focus on absolution and perfection can be found. The “last epiphany” often chimes in there too, making a connection to the return of Christ; and the Last Sunday before Advent translates that into one last kick in the seat to get on with good works as the next season is about to start. Thus, on the heels of All Saints’ Day, the traditional calendar points us in the direction of sainthood, bringing the liturgical year full circle.
In the modern calendar (and the Revised Common Lectionary family), the context of what’s going is extremely different, but the effect at this stage is actually very similar. Trinitytide is not a discipleship course in the modern lectionaries, but rather a survey through the Gospels and Epistles, cycling through different books in each of its three years. Towards the end of the season, though, the gospels reach the last parables and teachings of Jesus, bringing us to the final calls to holiness (like the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25) and the great eschatological discourse. Christ the King Sunday, in its modern position directly before Advent, plays well into this scheme, transitioning the modern Trinitytide into the season of Advent.
(Yes, there are those who argue, quite fairly, that Christ the King is primarily supposed to be a feature of Ascensiontide instead, but that’s a debate for another time.)
Advent, then, both old and new, begins with the same end-times emphasis in the Gospels, smoothly picking up where the previous season left off, because the lectionary has prepared us for it.
For those planning the worship, particularly choosing the music and writing the sermons, this transition can be a great gift for the congregation if we just let it shine forth. In these few Sundays between All Saints’ and Advent, we can mix in a nice pile of hymns for All Saints, or the Church Triumphant, the Kingdom of God, the Kingship of Christ, the return of Christ and Advent. How to execute this mix and transition of themes will vary depending upon which calendar & lectionary you’re using, and what exactly the preaching plan is, but in general this all works together.
Fun fact: over in England, their modernization of the calendar is a little different than ours. For them, Trinitytide ends in October, and All Saints’ Sunday kicks off what is essentially a Pre-Advent season, sometimes called ‘Kingdomtide.’ The liturgical color is recommended to be red. This strikes me as somewhat unnecessary – the traditional lectionary and the RCL already provide a Pre-Advent time without specially marking one out. This Kingdomtide addition also makes the removal of the traditional Pre-Lent Sundays rather hypocritical. If you poke around the Anglican Communion today, you will find some provinces have a modern calendar like ours – the American style – and others will have one like the English one. So if you ever travel abroad at this time of year, be aware that there may be some noteworthy lectionary divergences this month. The good news is that, despite the various methods, the general effect is mercifully similar across the board.