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‘Anything But’ Ordinary Time calls for radical faith


A new liturgical season emerges

By Kathleen Long Bostrom | Presbyterians Today

Man with mask stretches out his arms.September is usually the month when we settle back into our routines. Beach umbrellas are replaced by school buses speckling the roadway. Parents scramble to get kids out the door to school. Churches, too, gear up for rally days. But not this year.

As 2020 began — and at the first ragged, painful cough — the world found itself navigating an unprecedented journey that introduced phrases such as “sheltering in place” and “social distancing.” By early summer, as communities began emerging from isolation, protests pushed COVID-19 from the limelight. People joined in outrage, horrified by the brutal death of George Floyd, an African American man pinned to the ground pleading for his life. This year has become “The Year of Tragical Thinking” and has ushered in a new season in the liturgical calendar — “Anything But” Ordinary Time.

Traditionally, the season of Ordinary Time runs till the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. It is a season to discover God in the daily rhythm of our lives. But daily rhythms seem hard to come by lately, and “Anything But” Ordinary Time has put us on an unending road trip with no detailed timeline letting us know when we’ll be safely home again. What we do have, though, are the lectionary readings from Exodus for September and October that recall another unprecedented trip — the one the Hebrews took from Egypt to Canaan. The Hebrews lived in slavery for 400 years, their identity shattered, their freedom long forgotten. Moses whisks them from the only life they have known and sends them skedaddling into a foreign land where they wander for an entire generation. They are homeless, frightened and threatened, and have no way of knowing when their journey will end. They are only a few miles — and months — into the journey when the people start to whine like a carload of kids on a trip. They even become nostalgic for the “normalcy” of slavery when they reminisce about pots of meat and bread, putting a shining patina on what was in actuality a life of suffering and starvation. Slavery? Normal? Not in God’s eyes.

In this season, we also have World Communion Sunday, which falls on Oct. 4. The emphasis on being united with Christians around the world has particular significance in 2020. The pandemic of COVID-19 has unfurled like an 11th plague, and nobody has been spared the effects. The world seems to have awakened to the blatant inequality between different colors of human beings. And yet we are reminded in the breaking of the bread that Jesus welcomes all people — equally. “This is my body,” Jesus said, not “broken for a few,” but broken for everyone.

We are still on an unending road trip. We’re not there yet, but there is no going back to the way things were, no more than it was possible for the Hebrews to return to Egypt. Ordinary and normal are no more. Maybe it’s time that we embraced that truth. Let us allow “Anything But” Ordinary Time to open our eyes, helping us recognize that nobody is exempt from a pandemic, and that inequality and injustice won’t go away unless we all make that happen. The journey has begun, and we must keep moving forward until we are finally home.

Kathleen Long Bostrom is a retired PC(USA) minister and the author of over 50 books, most of them picture books for children.

Living in ‘Anything But’ Ordinary Time

  • Look up — literally. Notice the clouds, the color of the sky and the constellations. Gazing in a new direction can restore us, reminding us that there’s a larger Creation out there.
  • Look around. During the early months of isolation in 2020, small acts of kindness were on display. Children left chalk drawings on sidewalks. People hung cutout hearts in windows for all who passed by. Keep these acts of kindness going, finding ways to be anonymous bearers of kindness and hope.
  • Look out for one another. Remember others throughout the world who are suffering. In preparation for World Communion Sunday, write names on index cards to post on a church bulletin board or share online. Post some blank cards as a reminder to pray for the nameless, too.

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