September 1 marks the beginning of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s liturgical year. The day’s Gospel reading comes from the book of Luke, and it centers on a moment (appropriately enough) at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is in the synagogue and reads the following from the prophet Isaiah, concerning the Lord’s Messiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After the reading, Jesus says to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “The Savior that the prophets foretold, and that you’ve all been waiting for, is here… and that Savior is me.” You can imagine that if anyone wasn’t paying attention up to that point, they were paying attention then.
Isaiah’s thumbnail sketch of the Messiah’s work is a promise of what the seasons of the Church year have to offer. Through the cycles of feasting and fasting we discover the possibility of hearing the Good News, of experiencing liberation from the captivity of sin, of being filled with the light of Christ’s grace and knowing the joy of our Lord’s good favor.
Too often people look at church attendance as a chore. This is very unfortunate. When we think like this we end up shortchanging our own spiritual well-being. Attitude is everything.
Whether we look at going to church as a burden or a blessing is all up to us. But as we make that call, we should remember this. Jesus says that “the Sabbath was made for man…” (Gospel of Mark) In other words, going to church is a great gift. Through our worship services we discover an incredible opportunity to commit a bit of our time in this world to something that has eternal implications.