One of the most obvious features of the early Quaker movement was its emphasis on the spiritual reality of the Holy Spirit, preferring it to outward forms and holidays that the Church had long observed to call attention to these spiritual realities. In seventeenth-century England, these forms were abused horrendously, with the state church demanding tithes at the point of the sword and insisting that anyone who did not perform their rituals was destined for eternal damnation. In that context, I understand why the early Friends rejected the official liturgical calendar. It had become a tool of oppression that, "[had] the form of godliness but denied the power."(1)
In the decades and centuries following the emergence of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers have developed our own liturgical calendar based around a series of gatherings for worship, confession and business. Much of this traditional routine is still maintained in Ohio Yearly Meeting. We meet weekly (or more often) for worship, gathering at set times and places. Monthly, we gather with area Friends to conduct business and answer the Queries (confession). Every three months, we meet for Quarterly Meeting, which gathers Friends from the wider region to consider the Queries and any other relevant business. And, once each year, our liturgical calendar culminates in an annual gathering of the entire fellowship.
"Now, wait a minute," some might say, "that's not a liturgical calendar, that's just a pattern of church government!" Hard to argue with that. Clearly, our traditional system of Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, answering the Queries and doing church business qualify as church government. And yet, it also functions as a calendar for remembrance, confession and prayer. When we gather together in our meetings for worship, we are practicing a pre-arranged remembrance of our Lord. We wait on him in expectant silence, and we welcome him into our midst. We remember him, and he dwells among us, teaching us.
When we answer the Queries together, we remember the scriptural injunction to, "confess [our] sins to one another and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed."(2) When we conduct our business as a church, we take literally Christ's promise that, "wherever two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the midst of them."(3) Just as in our meetings for worship, we wait upon Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, seeking to be taught and guided as a community. We remember the Lord, and he remembers us.
This routine of remembrance that we maintain as Friends has become deeply important to me over the years. Just as weekly meeting for worship is a spiritual landmark for my week, monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting also serve as spiritual markers for me. In many ways, Yearly Meeting is my "Holy Week." These days and seasons of formal remembrance are deeply helpful in my walk of repentance and new birth in the Lord.
Just as I find spiritual depth and meaning in the routine remembrance that we practice in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I also find nourishment in the liturgical calendar of the wider Church. Today is Good Friday, a day that the Christian Church has long set aside for remembering the brutal torture and execution of the Lord Jesus. This day follows a forty-day season of formal repentance, called Lent, during which we pay special attention to spiritually preparing ourselves to remember Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
Observing Lent this year has been a blessing for me, deepening my awareness of Jesus' sacrifice and ultimate victory over the powers of darkness and death. Just as participation in the liturgical calendar of Ohio Yearly Meeting has helped to knit me more deeply into that community, participation in the calendar of the wider Church has helped me to feel more connected to the universal Body of Christ. There is something powerful about joining with millions of other Christians in thousands of other denominations and communions as we seek to be more aware of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This Sunday, Easter, will be the culmination of the yearly calendar for the worldwide Church, as we remember the culmination of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. I pray that this season of remembrance will be a meaningful one for you, and that your membership in the Body of Christ be enriched by shared remembrance of our dear Savior. Let us thank him for his self-sacrificial love and invite him into our midst. Come, Lord Jesus!
1. 2 Timothy 3:5
2. James 5:16
3. Matthew 18:20