Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Color Purple

Now that we have entered the season of Lent, this is a good time to reflect on the meaning of “the color purple,” as well as other colors that greet us when we worship.

The colors of paraments (worship cloths) connect us in a deep way with the Body of Christ as well as the seasons of the Christian year. For Methodists, with other mainline churches that trace worship traditions to the ancient faith, worship is not seen as a singular event but as a life, a rhythm, and a means of grace.

Every service is rooted within a season, and the seasons of the Christian year trace the entire Biblical story annually. The traditional colors for worship are always used instead of cultural colors (like red and green for Christmas or red, white, and blue for Fourth of July).

I tell confirmands that purple is the “getting ready color.” During Lent and Advent, this color that ancient Christians associated with royalty looks forward to the coming king and the two holiest days of the year. Blue (as a derivative of purple) is sometimes used for Advent. Here is a brief outline:

Advent - purple (or blue): The beginning of the Christian year when Old Testament prophets are read and we get in touch with their longing for a Messiah. It is always the four Sundays before Christmas Day.

Christmas – white: A twelve day season from Christmas Eve until the day of Epiphany, January 6. White represents purity, glory, and holiness of the two highest and holiest seasons of the Christian year.

Epiphany – green: Epiphany is a season of growing awareness, of “aha’s”, focusing on the wisdom of the three magi and the many ways we realize who Christ is. Green is used because it is the color of growth.

Lent – purple: 40 days of spiritual preparation for Easter. Since Easter moves due to its connection with Passover (determined by the Jewish lunar calendar), the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, moves around and the prior season of Epiphany varies in length.

Easter – white: Easter is not just one day but a season of 50 days, in which white is used for the same reasons as Christmas.

Pentecost – red: The birthday of the church is the one day that celebrates the fire of the Holy Spirit and Acts chapter 2 with the color red.

Ordinary Time – green: The remainder of the Christian year is a time of growth of the church until Advent begins again. Green is always used.

There are special days within seasons when white is used. Examples include the Baptism of our Lord at the beginning of Epiphany and the Transfiguration of Jesus on the last day of the same. Another example is All Saints Sunday late in Ordinary Time. Watch for when white appears … it means it’s a special day on the liturgical calendar!

White is used on high occasions (other than Sundays) such as weddings or funerals. Some churches have been known to use white for communion and baptism, but I suggest that this practice emerges from pockets of history when sacraments were rare occasions when the presiding elder (now called District Superintendent) could come and lead it for the licensed local pastor he supervised. This is not suggested in any United Methodist literature on worship because the tradition of the church is to celebrate sacraments within the appropriate season.

As you worship, enter the season of the year in a way that brings to life the seasons of our lives.