I remember growing up in my little Lutheran church in Wyoming and thinking how boring it was that all summer the paraments on the communion table and the pulpit were green. There seemed to be enough green everywhere in the world during the summer. Green grass, green leaves, green plants, even green weeds. I wondered why the church didn’t decorate with more colors to jazz it up a bit. I didn’t know about the seasons of the church year, even though my mom was the church organist. When I did find out about all the symbolism of seasons, colors, and paraments, I became fascinated with how we mark time in the church, and how that marking of time has been passed down for many years through liturgical traditions.
Children are creatures of habit. They learn through repetition. They love to mark birthdays and holidays and wait with anticipation for big events to arrive. Teaching the rhythm of church seasons to children helps open their eyes to the patterns of the church in the same way. Starting the year with Advent and the colors of purple and blue in anticipation of royalty, a king who will arrive, we clothe the church in ancient traditions. Christmas and Easter are festival days where white and gold are the colors to remind us of God’s radiant love. A new Pascal candle is lit as we enter the new church year in Advent. Red is the color of Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit. The ordinary, or non-festival days are green to remind us of God’s nurturing and the growth of life all around us. Green would have been the most plentiful color for fabric dye in the ancient world. It can be made from all sorts of green plants and flowers. The rare purple and blue dye was saved for royalty and the rich. When we mark Advent and Lent with purple or blue, we are regarding Christ as the King, the royal Son of God.
Marking the church year with visual cues in our worship spaces gives us another opportunity to teach our children and one another about God. The seasons are a touchstone to remind us that for thousands of years Christians return year after year to waiting and hoping in Advent, to praying and reflecting in Lent, to joyfully celebrating on Christmas and Easter, and to faithfully worshiping throughout the year.