September 2, 2014

The Season after Pentecost: “Ordinary Time”

By Chaplain Mike

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, 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 about and practice evangelism and missions. 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.

  • 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.

Comments

  1. Tho I have been attending various liturgical churches this past year in particular, I have not yet felt free to jump ship from the low church. I have enjoyed each of the seasons and how they help keep us focused on the LDR of Jesus as a church in community.

    Thank you for giving a brief but helpful overview of both the value and importance of “extraordinary time – and espececially how to be more intentionally focused during “ordinary” time. This to me, had felt like an “in between” place, a bit of a limbo waiting for the start of the next season of Advent rather than a purposeful time in istself.

  2. Good post, CM. I’d like to note a few additional special days during this long stretch of time:

    World Communion Sunday – first Sunday of October, featuring the sacrament of communion and celebrating one’s communing and fellowship with Christians all over the world.

    Reformation Sunday – last Sunday of October, in remembrance of Martin Luther’s nailing the theses to the door of the cathedral (Reformation Day itself is Oct. 31st).

    • Cedric Klein says:

      When was World Communion Day started? I was just going to suggest a Christian festival that will correspond to the Autumn Festivals (Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur-Succoth) and that looks like it would fit. The only one I could see would be The Annunciation to Zechariah around Autumn Equinox (actually Sept 25).

      • It’s actually a fairly recent thing that was started in the 1930s, but it has become a widely celebrated day.

      • To quote the Pope from his Angelus address on Trinity Sunday (30th May):

        “After the Easter season, which concluded last Sunday with Pentecost, the liturgy returned to Ordinary Time. That does not mean that the commitment of Christians must diminish, rather, having entered into the divine life through the sacraments, we are called daily to be open to the action of grace, to progress in the love of God and our neighbor.”

        As for World Communion Day, the Catholic equivalent is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (which was 3rd June this year) but usually moved to the Sunday (which was the 6th June). It was made a feastday of the universal Church in 1264.

        That’s where your Texas city gets its name :-)

        • Cedric, the Christian festival around the Autumn equinox is Michaelmas, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (or if you prefer, the feast of St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels).

          It also marks the first term of the academic year, which begins at this time, at various educational institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is also the name of the first of four terms into which the legal year is divided by the courts of England and Wales.

          The second major feastday in September is the Exaltation of the Cross on 14th September.

        • Does the Catholic church have a Latin word for “oil refinery”? That’s where our Texas city gets its smell….

          • That would probably be covered in the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis (Dictionary of Recent Latin), which indicates Latin terms to use in referring to modern ideas.

            Except that it’s published in Italian and I don’t speak Italian :-)

  3. Clay Knick says:

    I’m preaching Luke from now until the end of the church year.

  4. If one looks at either the 1 year or 3 year lectionary, they will see that most will follow the Church year with appropriate readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels.

  5. Pastor M says:

    Ordinary time, what a shift from the “hype” or “big show” modus operandi of many churches these days, where the “Wow” of last week quickly fades and has to be superceded by an even bigger “Wow” each week.

    • Thank you for that insightful comment, Pastor. Truly, that “wow” to “wow” weekly ebb and flow is more likened to faith on choppy seas rather than faith on solid ground.

  6. What I find odd is that many churches seemingly shut down in the post-Pentecost (i.e. summer) season. Choirs take a couple months off, services are cut, sometimes multiple churches combine into one service rather than having individual services, Sunday school classes take a break, etc. Maybe there’s a practical reason going back to the days before air conditioning, but I’ve always found it a bit strange that “ordinary time” effectively means “no church”.

    • I have noticed by many Churches don’t have Christmas Day services. They will use the excuse of Christmas day is “family time”. Also, many will not have Christmas Day services if Christmas falls on a Sunday.

      • “They will use the excuse of Christmas day is “family time”.

        Is that a bad “excuse”, or a worthy decision?

        • I guess if Christmas Day focus isn’t the incarnation of Our Lord, then we can be like the rest of American and treat it was a holiday, not a Holy Day.

          • Does a family have to be in the church building to focus on “the incarnation of Our Lord”?

          • Why even bother to have corporate worship?

          • MAJ Tony says:

            Does a family have to be in the church building to focus on “the incarnation of Our Lord”? -Rick

            Christ’s family should be in Christ’s home (the local “Domus Dei”) for several reasons. One is to bear witness to Christ. Others include corporate worship, sign of unity, etc.

            On an off-topic, but connected note: The understanding of a church building as just a meeting hall and not “God’s House” is a place where certain groups have gotten off the tracks, and that has recently included contemporary Catholics, unfortunately. True, God is everywhere, but it is a good thing to hold regular corporate worship in a designated sacred place, and not do things in that place that detract from that use.

          • I was not talking about corporate worship, or the importance of gathering together. I was not even talking about churches having Christmas services.

            Rather, I was responding to the idea that there must be a Christmas service on Christmas Day, and that using it for “family time” is not a valid reason.

            I appreciate the use of the liturgical calendar, and the idea of celebrating certain aspects of the faith at certain times, but as someone who grew up in a high church/liturgical denomination, I saw how it can become something that is simply going through the motions. Not allowing flexibility at times can make such practices seem legalistic.

            Likewise, many of the decision of churches are based on the well-being of the congregation. If a church decides to hold its Christmas service a few days early, thus allowing the congregation (including/especially the volunteers) time to be at home with their families, is that a harmful thing?

    • Is that because of church leadership lifestyles, or because attendance goes down?

  7. Thank you for the post Mike. My wife and I are new to the Episcopalian Church and we have just experienced our first whole church calendar year. It was very deep and touching. We are now back in ordinary time where we started this whole journey and we appreciate the rhythm of life we are experiencing in our spiritual life.

  8. Oops, I meant Epsicopal Church

  9. dumb ox says:

    Thanks for this. I get kind of lost in ordinary time. Special thanks for the part on vocation.

  10. This probably falls under the heading of “too long; don’t read”, but a stripped-down version of the remainder of the liturgical calendar for this year with the most important feastdays (I haven’t included any of the Marian feasts or saints’ days). Also, I’ve included the reminder that the liturgical season of Christmas doesn’t start until after Christmas Day:

    June 24: The Birth of John the Baptist (traditionally Midsummer’s Day)

    August 6: The Transfiguration of the Lord

    September 14: Exaltation of the Holy Cross
    September 29: Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

    November 1: All Saints
    November 2: All Souls
    November 21: Christ the King
    November 28: First Sunday of Advent

    December 5: Second Sunday of Advent
    December 12: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday, rose colour vestments)
    December 19: Fourth Sunday of Advent
    December 24: Christmas Eve/Ss Adam and Eve

    Christmastide:

    December 25: The Nativity of Our Lord
    December 26: St Stephen, Protomartyr
    December 27: St John, Apostle and Evangelist
    December 28: The Holy Innocents
    January 1: Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God/The Feast of the Circumcision (old calendar)
    January 3: Most Holy Name of Jesus
    January 6: Epiphany (Twelfth Night)
    January 9: Baptism of the Lord (end of Christmastide)

    • confusedmom says:

      Thanks for laying that out. It’s easy to read.

      • You do not know how tempted I was to leave in October 10: St Francis Borgia (yes, one of those Borgias).

        ;-)