Sunday, March 27, the third Sunday in Lent signaled Easter’s imminent arrival, less than a month away. As days lengthen and daylight hours grow longer, Lent shortens, announcing that the yearly commemoration of the Resurrection is at hand.
Local churches make silent announcement about the Church season as wooden crosses, their stiff arms draped in purple, remind passersby that this is a time for penance, and forgiveness. Both High church and Low Church, the cathedral and the mission, call an embattled world to come inside the symbolic household of God. Those hearts “ weary in well- doing” consider the sacrifice of Christ, saying: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow, I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil.3:10- 11). The purple draped cross symbolizes Christ as “ Royalty”, come down from heaven to suffer, die, and be buried. The purple draped cross represents the “passion” of suffering as well as Christ’s passion for the multitudes, God’s creation gone astray. The purple draped cross is a silent sermon about spiritual sacrifice and self denial.
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart …God will not despise” ( Psalm 51: 17). On Easter Sunday morning parishioners and passersby awake to see the colors of the cross changed to white, the church’s way of announcing joy, victory, and peace.
Many churched and un- churched people ask about the meanings of church colors. Perhaps this guide will help those who need a refresher and serve as a ready resource for church leaders. First of all, the “ western” Christian Church year is divided into five seasonal cycles with corresponding colors.
Deep Royal or Navy Blue commonly thought of as Mary’s color, announces the expectation of the Birth of Jesus. Blue is associated with Advent. Churches use White for celebrating Easter, and Christmas.
White, a color of celebration and joy announces the victory of resurrection and peace. White is the church color for funerals in the High Church. In the Low Church ( congregations that prefer to forego formality in worship) white is a year- round, allpurpose color. In most churches white and gold are used for baptisms, funerals, and weddings.
Some churches have developed a tradition for using white for celebrating Communion. Right after Christmas, Epiphany services celebrate the Lord revealed as Savior and Son of God. Green adorns church furnishings and the pastor/ preacher wears a green stole.
Green dominates the altar and pulpit paraments until Lent, when the liturgical color changes to purple. Palm Sunday and Holy Week are marked by bright red as a dominant color. Pentecost Sunday is also red. Lay ministers, should be careful about donning red attire at any time, since it is reserved for the highest ecclesiastical offices.
Mis-representing the Holy Order of Bishops may disrupt the purpose for which special vestments are worn. Finally, the Church is sorrowfully attired in Black for Good Friday, as parishioners observe the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Gold, white, and silver may accent any dominant, thematic, liturgical color.
Another component of this long asked for, and long awaited writing answers: “Why are seasonal colors and divisions of the church year important to some people?
The answer has come in our own dismay with disorder and abandoning tradition. Children need to be taught that there is an order to worship. Colors mark the church as a holy setting with holy markings. Adults need to be reminded that God created seasons, and each season has its own end. The church and the people of God are set aside for purpose and invested with meaning.
The colors are an outward affirmation of purpose and meaning. Finally, cycles occur— whether we like them or don’t like them. Whether we are prepared for change or unprepared, expect change.
The church calendar with its accompanying colors and varied holy rituals help us to understand and adapt to the seasons of life. (Ecclesiastes 3:1).