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There Is Nothing Ordinary About Ordinary Time
A reminder that Ordinary Time is all the time.
A few years ago, my family and I enjoyed a wonderful vacation in San Diego. Before our departure, a friend told us to “enjoy the promised land.” It felt a bit dramatic for a trip to the States, but once I tasted and saw for myself how good it was, I understood what he meant. It was a week filled with joy, beautiful scenery, visits to the San Diego Zoo (which is doing amazing work for animal conservation and the environment), pristine beaches stretching for miles, breathtaking sunsets, numerous children’s playgrounds, and a moment when Daddy accidentally dislocated someone’s elbow—Sorry, Maggie. (Swinging your kids by the arms, the classic One, two, three, Wee!, is a little more dangerous than advertised.)
Like most vacations, our trip to San Diego passed too quickly. I don’t know about you, but a good vacation awakens a lingering desire for the renewed rest, awe, and freedom to carry over into my ordinary life. Is there a way to live every day with more levity and delight and less burden and responsibility? But slowly, oh-so inevitably, everything returns back to the routine: bills must be paid, work hours fulfilled, chores done, and commitments honored. Isn’t there a way for Vacation Time to have a more lasting impact on our ordinary lives?
I imagine you know this tension too.
At this point of the year, the Church worldwide has journeyed through Holy Time—its own kind of vacation. If you’re not familiar with the church calendar, Holy Time starts with Advent and journeys through Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and ends with Pentecost. Through these seasons, we immerse ourselves in the good news of great joy: the life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit—God with us, for us, within us. We journey through the arc of the gospel story, and along the way, we embrace dispositions and practices to help us live more fully in our life in Christ. We remember, pray, fast, repent, believe, lament, give, celebrate, and rejoice. Our hearts break, mourn, grieve, long, hope, and delight. We journey to the cross for our redemption and through the cross to our new life. We rejoice in the confounding joy of resurrection. We live into the refrain, He is not here. He is risen! As Holy Time comes to its climax, we pray with the ancient church, Come, Holy Spirit, as we celebrate that we have been baptized into the Father, Son, and Spirit—sharing in the very life of God.
But then Holy Time ends.
… and there’s still a stack of dishes waiting for us in the sink.
We turn the page of our calendar to the next season. Half our year is spent in Holy Time, and the other half in Ordinary Time. Is there a way for everything we’ve experienced in Holy Time to have a more lasting impact on our ordinary lives? Or does it all just slowly drift away like the effects of a good vacation?
Why Do We Call It Ordinary Time?
Typically, when we say something is ordinary, we imply that it lacks specialness or distinction. It’s normal, the usual, expected. Because of its regular use, it’s easy to project this meaning onto the ordinary in Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is not about enduring through the humdrum of the mundane, a dull commonplace reality after the heights of a spiritual pilgrimage through Holy Time. Because there is nothing ordinary about our ordinary lives in Christ. The good news that we’ve rehearsed and embraced through Holy Time has the power to shape our everyday lives, from the daily commute and household chores to caring for our loved ones and facing conflicts at work or with friends. Because these ordinary matters matter to God.
There is nothing ordinary about our ordinary lives in Christ.
Some traditions mark the days of Ordinary Time in reference to Pentecost, whereas others do so from Trinity Sunday. Either way, they emphasize the same truth. Our ordinary lives as Christians share in the life, love, and joy of the Trinity. After all, we are instructed by Jesus to be baptized “into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit, is essential to this reality of being immersed into God. The Spirit moves into the depths of our hearts, the core of our being, and starts a renovation, degree by degree, ever so slowly because we are human after all, we reflect the likeness of Christ—dust illuminated with divinity! Even more, through the Spirit, we experience Christ within us. And, through the Spirit, we cry out to God as adopted children, Abba! Father! The Spirit fills and empowers us to be witnesses of Christ in our ordinary happenings. We live and move and have our being in the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit for God’s glory and the sake of the world. This is what is ordinary for us—and it is breathtakingly extraordinary.
A Good Question
Holy Time is not a break from Ordinary Time. It’s an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the gospel so we can live more fully in Ordinary Time every single day, month by month, year after year. Because, no matter what season it may be in the church calendar, our truest reality is Ordinary Time—life in the Spirit. In fact, this is our ordinary reality—even as we wake up, hit snooze, step into the shower, and brush our teeth.
I must admit that my favorite season is Eastertide. As a pastor, I encourage people to celebrate 50 Days of Joy by making space for gratitude-related habits such as rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks (because this is God’s will and desire for us, according to Paul). One year, as Eastertide was drawing to a close, someone asked me, “What are we going to do to ensure that the practices people adopted during Eastertide continue afterward?”
It’s a great question!
Do these habits simply fade away? What about the disciplines of repentance and generosity we cultivate during Lent—do they vanish too? What about the disposition of hope that we nurture during Advent? Gone?
Of course not.
Our ordinary life in Christ will be characterized by many dispositions and habits: faith, hope, and love that fuel repentance, belief, rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving. Although Ordinary Time doesn’t have its own pattern of Fasting and Feasting like Holy Time, it does have its own essential disciplines: walking in step with the Spirit and stirring our anticipation and expectation for Jesus to return.
On Pentecost, the Spirit rested on the disciples like fire and empowered them to speak in previously unknown languages. While much can be said about what happened, I want to focus on a subtext: a radical reversal. In Genesis, the story of Babel is about humanity, speaking one language, uniting together to fulfill their own heaven-ascending agenda. God thwarted these efforts and divided their misguided unity through many languages. What can be missed, however, is that this was an act of God’s grace. Humanity was acting in a fundamentally anti-creational manner. They were rejecting their vocation to be fruitful and multiply and instead congregated in one place and sought to define their own vocation. So, it turns out, grace was at work in judgment as God stopped an effort that would ultimately miss our purpose and dehumanize us.
But so many centuries later, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit reunited our ability to speak and to hear about the glories of God. Whether we receive the gift of a previously unknown language or not, in the Spirit, we have all been given a new language—the message of the gospel: It is futile for us to try to ascend to heaven. Because God, who is rich in mercy, descended yet again. But this time, God revealed the riches of his grace in Christ who came to reconcile humanity to God and one another. God descended to become what we are so we can ascend to share in his life. The season of Ordinary Time is when we press into this new language as we keep in step with the Spirit. We learn how to speak about the gospel of God with our lips and our lives, in our homes and neighbourhoods, and everywhere in-between—all for the glory of God.
Yet, during Ordinary Time, we also take to heart Jesus’ own command: Stay awake! Everything we practice during Holy Time is intended to help us remain vigilant in anticipation of his return. This is why Ordinary Time begins with Pentecost and ends with Christ The King Sunday. We are preparing ourselves to receive and worship our King who will return to establish a new heaven and earth and everlasting kingdom. Then, the page of the calendar turns again to Holy Time, which says, If we want to receive our King, what better place to meet him than the manger?
Let’s Get Ordinary
Back to my question: is there a way for everything we’ve experienced in Holy Time to have a more lasting impact on our ordinary lives? Or is it the same wishful desire for the benefits of a good vacation to linger for a while longer?
Perhaps, maybe—What if?—this desire for a brief taste of goodness to permeate our whole lives is a deeper desire and yearning, even an unspoken prayer. What if it is a longing for the whole good? What if it’s our soul searching and reaching for the only source of goodness that can actually change our daily lives? This is why the gospel is described as having power by the apostle Paul. It is the power of God at work to save, redeem, and renew. The whole point of Holy Time is to root us in the ever-present power of the gospel to save and transform us.
Even though the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest is a part of my everyday life, there is nothing ordinary about it: the vast Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon, towering Douglas Firs and Sitka Spruce, and mountains that seem to touch the sky. But all too easily, I cease to appreciate the beauty. It becomes ordinary in the mundane sense. In the same way, there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time—it represents the very essence of what it means to follow Jesus daily. Whenever life starts to feel a bit too routine, a little too common, let’s try to remember: we do not live an ordinary life in the world, we live an ordinary life in Christ, empowered by the Spirit, all for the glory of the Father. The Church Calendar can help us press into this reality more. But whether you embrace the calendar or not, we are guaranteed that the Spirit meets us here and now, in the ordinary, as we speak about and stay awake to a world on the brink of resurrection. Thanks be to God.
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Collect for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
O Lord God, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A Helpful Resource
If the liturgical calendar is new to you, or you need a refresher, or you want to understand it more, I highly recommend Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross. It is such a simple and helpful explanation of the liturgical year. Even more, it provides thoughtful reflections in a devotional that will help you meaningful engage every week of the liturgical calendar. If you end up reading it, let me know what you think!