What kind of liturgical season is November? It doesn’t seem to be part of the year of the Lord, when we follow the life of Jesus from birth through ministry to Passion and resurrection. Nor does it quite seem to fit with what we call the Sundays of ordinary time, when the lectionary readings tend to move us through gospel or epistle in a continuous fashion, without much regard for theme or season.
Which brings us to the question of, what kind of a season is November on the secular calendar? There too it seems unsure of its own character. Technically, of course, it’s part of autumn. However, it doesn’t really seem to fit. Where are the bright colors, the refreshing nip in the air? For many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, all of that has come and gone. The predominant color is more likely to be brown, and the novelty of the cooler air may have worn off. In some areas, snow may have already arrived. No, it doesn’t feel at all like fall anymore, but it isn’t really winter yet either. Even Thanksgiving seems not quite sure of itself. It’s frequently late for a harvest festival, so we try to rush things a bit and make it the kickoff of the Christmas season.
November seems to be less of a season than a time in between, a period getting ready for a real season. It has its pleasures, of course, but somehow it’s just not the real thing. If it has a theme of its own, perhaps it is the notion of promise, of something yet to come.
The liturgical calendar seems to do something similar with this month that doesn’t quite fit. It begins with death, which to some may seem like a strange beginning. All Saints traditionally is a day for recalling those who have died in the past year. For many in our midst this is a difficult day, a day of recalling a loved one they have lost in the last year. But the images of All Saints are not mournful ones. They are images not of what was and is no more, but of what will yet be. They are images of hope, of feasts shared and tears wiped away.
The following Sundays also look to a time to come. The writer of Hebrews tells of a time when Christ will come again, not to die for sin but to save the faithful. Jesus speaks of signs of the end times. Finally the month ends with the festival of Christ the King, with its images of fiery thrones, of Alpha and Omega, of a kingdom not of this world.
November is about promises. It is a time in between, moving us from ‘not’ to ‘then.’ As the calendar turns from one season to another, the church points us from one world to another. November says it is true the old is passing away, but more is to come. While the calendar holds the promise of December, and of the turn of a new year, faith promises a new world, a new king, a new life.
Even more than that, November is about reality, about what matters most. The place of this month in the calendar seems to suggest that what went before was important, and what is to come is more important yet, and the time in between is not quite real. In a similar way the liturgical calendar creates this non-season of November. It serves as a bridge from the activities of summer, of the life of faith lived fully, to the season of Advent, of awaiting the ultimate. “Look,” it says, “the real is yet to come. Rejoice in what is here, but rejoice as well in what will yet be.”