The last several years, my wife and I have been trying to read books along with the church seasons. Granted, we don’t celebrate many of the traditional Church holidays; but for the couple significant holidays and seasons that our local church does observe, we’ve found it hugely significant to not just let those times go by, but treat them as sacred and really dig into framing our mindset into that particular Church season. One of the ways we’ve done this is to try to read purposefully through a book, as a supplement to studying Scripture, that corresponds to, and sheds light and fresh perspective on that particular Church season.
God created us with an orientation toward holidays and toward marking our calendars with days of celebration and observance of God’s great acts of grace toward His people, etc. We find this all over the Old Testament, beginning with the creation of the seven day week (and the institution of the Sabbath!). The two biggest seasons that most Christians will celebrate if nothing else, will be Christmas (or Advent) and Easter (or Holy Week). What a tragedy if we let every rhythm of culture direct our mindsets, our observances, and our habits, without ever following the rhythms of redemption found in the Gospel and in the Church. Or celebrating the rhythms of the Gospel in a token, half-hearted (or no-hearted) way. Doug Wilson is helpful on this point in his book on Advent: “[W]e now find ourselves marking time with dates like Labor Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, MLK Day, and so forth. But Christians must define the year in an explicitly Christian way, and face the objections, or they must acquiesce in the secularization of time” (80). If Christ’s lordship extends beyond our internal spiritual lives, to how we engage and live in the world, then we should consider wholeheartedly observing those Christian seasons that remember and reorient our lives around the grand events of God’s great story of redemption.
So for instance, during the week of Good Friday and Easter, it’s been super helpful to pick something extra, to read during that time. Even if we don’t finish it, it will help us really observe, and celebrate with deep joy, what took place during Holy Week in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And this kind of extra reading and purposeful celebration fuels our worship when we gather with our church family to sing and celebrate together on these holidays.
Here are some things that have been very helpful the past few years, for my wife and I, and now with our kids, in defining our year “in an explicitly Christian way:”
2009-present: As my wife was searching like crazy for some rich theological stuff for Christmastime, she found out about Nancy Guthrie’s Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, which is a collection of readings for Advent from pillars of the Christian faith. There are readings from Calvin, to Spurgeon, to MacArthur. It’s a super rich collection, very well done. Guthrie has since put out a similar collection for Easter, called Jesus, Keep Me Near The Cross. We don’t have it, but it looks great.
2011: I read King’s Cross by Tim Keller, during Good Friday and Easter. This book is excellent. It’s basically a study through the Gospel of Mark, and it’s full of fresh, poignant perspective on Christ’s life, and his ultimate purpose of redeeming God’s people from their sin. Wonderful book, worth multiple reads.
2011-present: The Jesus Storybook Bible is perfect for our kids (and for us) as a creative re-telling of the whole story that Scripture tells, of God making a people for Himself and redeeming them through the blood of His Son. Our kids love this book – the writing and the artwork are so memorable. Really worth your time, whether you have kids or not.
2013: Currently reading The Man Jesus Christ by Bruce Ware. This is great so far, and the perfect read for me this year as I’m thinking about Good Friday and Easter, and planning out the final details for our church’s worship services for this Friday and Sunday. I’m not finished with the book yet, but I think I can heartily recommend it. It gets a little deep, so be forewarned, yet encouraged to take up and read! This one was also published just this year, so here’s a very recent review you might also find helpful.