August 23, 2017

Another Look: Ordinary Time

Merry Lea Farmstead. Photo by David Cornwell

For those who follow the Christian Calendar, we are now in the season after Pentecost. This season is also known as, “Ordinary Time.” Robert Webber explains the meaning of the term, and how this season compares to the rest of the liturgical year:

The period between Pentecost and the beginning of Advent is called ordinary time. By contrast the period through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, the Great Triduum, and the Easter season ending on Pentecost is called extraordinary time. Extraordinary time is so designated because its chief purpose is to celebrate the specific historic, supernatural acts of God in history that result in the salvation of creatures and creation.

Ancient-Future Time, p. 167

From Advent to Pentecost, we celebrate what God has done to inaugurate the new creation through Christ’s finished work. In the season after Pentecost, we celebrate what God does to empower us to live out the gospel day to day and week to week in the context of our ordinary lives.

Ordinary Time = Counted Time
Many sources point to the connection between the word “ordinary” and the “ordinal” (counted) numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). Ordinary time is “counted” time:

  • Rather than moving from season to season, in Ordinary Time we move simply from Sunday to Sunday. Each Sunday stands on its own, and is counted as the Xth Sunday after Pentecost.
  • During this season it is also proper to emphasize that we are called to live out the gospel day by day, one day at a time, not only in the notable experiences of life, but also in the mundane. As Chuck Sackett wrote in a devotional on Preaching.com: “These Sundays remind us of a simple truth — most time is ordinary time, neither crisis nor climax, tragedy nor comedy, just ordinary.”

Worship Approaches and Themes
First, because this season emphasizes the church’s daily and weekly walk with Christ, it would be a fine time to explore the meaning of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and the day set apart for Christian congregations to worship. During Ordinary Time, we can help one another remember why Sunday is special and how we can commemorate it as a special day for individuals, families and Christian communities.

Another nice aspect of the Season after Pentecost is that it provides more latitude in choosing themes for worship and preaching in our corporate worship. Robert Webber gives the following suggestion about studying a book of the Bible together during this season:

In ordinary time the theme is simply God’s saving event. Worship planners and preachers have much more flexibility to choose various biblical themes within the overarching theme of salvation history. This flexibility is evident, for example, in the various lectionaries for the Christian year. In ordinary time lectionaries suggest preaching continuously through select books of the Bible. Worship and preaching that follow a particular book of the Bible is called Lectio Continua….

I think a valid way to form congregational spirituality through the Christian year is to follow the lectionary texts from Advent to Pentecost, then do a book of the Bible during ordinary time. (emphasis mine)

Ancient-Future Time, p. 175f

This would be a particularly appropriate time to focus on the Book of Acts, with its stirring descriptions of church life and mission (see below), or on one of the Epistles written to edify and encourage believers to live in the Gospel.

Many evangelicals take this approach throughout the year. For more liturgically-oriented traditions, the Season after Pentecost would be a good time to discover the benefits of this practice.

Third, one theological theme that I have appreciated in the Lutheran tradition is the doctrine of vocation. This would be a wonderful subject on which to focus during the season after Pentecost. Gene Edward Veith gives a good Lutheran perspective on this:

This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone — Christian and non-Christian — whom He has given life.

Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face — our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor — but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.

The other side of the coin is that God is hidden in us. When we live out our callings –as spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, citizens, and the rest — God is working through us. Even when we do not realize it, when we fulfill our callings, we too are masks of God.

Ordinary time provides a perfect canvas on which to portray how God works through us in daily life — in our families, our work, our relationships with our neighbors, in our communities and in the world, in our care for creation, in our recreation and leisure activities.

Finally, Ordinary Time, with its emphasis on daily living in the world, is a great opportunity to teach and practice serving our neighbors, sharing the gospel, and participating in God’s mission (Missio Dei). Vacation Bible Schools, special community outreaches, camps, mission trips, and training classes to help believers learn to share their faith would all fit well with the themes of this season.

Special Days
There are a few special days that we (in the Western church) mark in the season after Pentecost. (Roman Catholics mark several other solemnities and feasts as well.)

  • Trinity Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost)
  • All Saints Day (Nov. 1)
  • Christ the King (final Sunday before Advent)

Nothing Ordinary
The Book of Acts, which is volume 2 of Luke-Acts, begins with this introduction:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1-2, NLT)

Note: the first book (Luke) was about “everything Jesus BEGAN to do and teach.” Luke’s second volume — Acts — is about everything Jesus CONTINUED to do and teach from his exalted position at the Father’s right hand, through the Spirit he sent to indwell and empower the church.

The first part of the Christian Year (extraordinary time) corresponds to the Gospel story. This second part of the year (ordinary time) celebrates the continuing story of Jesus as seen in in Acts, and as we continue to experience it today.

The season after Pentecost, is by no means “ordinary” in the sense of being unremarkable or unimportant. This season celebrates the ongoing work of Jesus in and through his people. With the Gospel, empowered by the Spirit, we walk day by day and week by week in his salvation. The church, through God’s ongoing presence, continues to plant seeds that will bring forth a harvest in the new creation.

A Prayer for Ordinary Time

Lord,
You are the fullness of life, of holiness, and of joy.
Fill our days and nights with the love of your wisdom,
that we may bear fruit in the beauty of holiness,
like a tree watered by running streams.

• • •

Photo by David Cornwell at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Sky blue grey, sun set
    Jupiter blinking above
    ordinary? no!

  2. Born on the cusp between the Great Depression and World War Two, lived thru the long Cold War and all the multiple contrived “wars” from Korea to Syria today, McCarthy hearings, Kennedy assassination, civil rights war hard fought, counter-cultural war hard fought, World Trade Towers, ongoing economic disaster, huge political and social division worldwide with intense rancor, and looking back on all this I find myself today living in what I consider the most extraordinary time of my whole life, all hands on deck, and as far as I can see the most extraordinary since Jesus walked the planet. We’ll see. In the meantime, the church refers to this as “ordinary” time, and my sense is that even most people who keep hitting the snooze button realize underneath that there is nothing at all ordinary about what is going on in the world around us today. This all brings to my mind Mike Jones’ recent account of the little mountain holler church where the whole of one’s obligation to God was to attend church on Sunday and play the role of good Christian for an hour, then business as usual. Don’t know how much that has changed today, if any, but I’m with Susan. Ordinary? No!

    • No matter how extraordinary the times, for the greater majority of us the greater majority of our time is going to be spent on ordinary things – sleeping, meals, work, family, friends. To be an ordinary person in extraordinary times may be the highest calling of all.

      • >> To be an ordinary person in extraordinary times may be the highest calling of all.

        Perhaps so. I would be more inclined to agree with you if you qualified your statement saying to be an aware and awake ordinary person in extraordinary times may be the highest calling of all.

        • Charles, are these extraordinary times because of all the voices screaming at us that it is so, or is it truly exceptional?

          • Susan Dumbrell says:

            I am not extraordinary, I am a realist.
            We can sink into the mud if we don’t look up.
            QED. I am a looker-up-er.
            Pass me the snorkel.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I figure it’s another expression of Charles’ conviction that Something Big on the Spiritual/Historical Scene is brewing or about to happen.

  3. StuartB says:

    “These Sundays remind us of a simple truth — most time is ordinary time, neither crisis nor climax, tragedy nor comedy, just ordinary.”

    *the deepest and heaviest of sighs*

    AMEN

  4. Damaris Zehner says:

    This may be my favorite David Cornwell picture so far. I love the lush colors — proof that the ordinary is beautiful.

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    “May you live in ordinary times” might be a better Fortune Cookie fortune than “May you live in interesting times.”

  6. I like ordinary. The predictable. Green pastures and still waters.

    With the Good Shepherd keeping watch. 🙂

  7. Robert F says:

    ordinary light
    on a red winged blackbird
    fire streaks the air

    • Ronald Avra says:

      I saw a red winged blackbird at the marsh on Sunday. I noticed it perched on the rail, at which point it took flight, and I got a good look at its epaulets. The wading birds inhabit another world altogether, just a few feet away.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        A blue heron frequents a small pond about one hundred feet from our house. When it lifts off, the wonderful creature is a marvel.

      • Robert F says:

        My wife saw one, a red winged blackbird, fly nearby our care as we were driving the other day. I didn’t actually see it, but the haiku gods don’t mind if I borrow her experience for my little poem. They’re generous that way, just like any ordinary or not-so ordinary bird, “…singin’ his song for me, at his own expense….”

  8. Burro [Mule] says:

    The East, as is its wont, does not have “ordinary time”. We do, however, number all Sundays from Pentecost.

    The Apostles’ Fast started yesterday. It is a gentle fast, fish allowed, and we read through Romans. July is unremarkable, then the Lady Days come in August with the feast of the Transfiguration, the Dormition Fast, and the feast of the Dormition. September was the start of the Byzantine civil year, so of course it starts a new cycle in the Orthodox church year.