The breather in the church calendar after the mountaintop highs
December 28, 2020
A recent cartoon in our Sunday newspaper depicted an exhausted mother, sprawled in a chair surrounded by typical birthday party chaos: torn wrapping paper, balloons, toys spread everywhere. Standing next to her, a little boy with a party hat tilted on his head asks, “When’s the next birthday?”
I can relate to that as both the exhausted mom — ready for a break from the party planning, implementation and aftermath — and as a pastor — physically, spiritually and emotionally drained from the liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent/Holy Week/Easter. We eagerly anticipate the high holy days that frame so much of our lives, even though the preparation, expectation and effort they take leave us worn out and yes, even ready to pack up the decorations and get back in our routines. Those periods in between holidays give us time to catch our breath and return to regular life. That time in the church is known as “Ordinary Time.”
Ordinary Time comprises all the days not marked by a specific season. It stretches on for 27 to 29 Sundays (not counting the Sundays of the Transfiguration, All Saints and the Trinity), or 33 to 34 partial weeks depending on how early or late Easter falls on the calendar and whether the year has 52 or 53 weeks.
The name “Ordinary Time” does not mean ordinary as we use the word. It comes from the word ordinal, an adjective denoting a numerical position of an object. It’s “first, second, third,” instead of “one, two, three.” Originally, all the Sundays that weren’t contained in the Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter seasons were indicated by ordinal numbers, hence the designation. Ordinary Time is basically “counted time.”
Yet there is something about the word “ordinary” that fits. Not in the sense of boring or dull but as an “in-between” season, a time to breathe after the culmination of the celebratory days. Just as most of our days are lived between the big events, so the church year is filled with more ordinary days than holidays. The holy days are the mountaintops, whereas Ordinary Time is the slopes, valleys and flatlands. All are beautiful — and necessary.
The Scripture passages assigned to Ordinary Time set the tone. They focus on the day- to-day life of Jesus. We read what it means from a practical standpoint to follow Jesus and the social and practical implications of doing so. Scripture and sermons focus on building a community of believers, people who would be Jesus’ wounded hands, aching feet, awkward elbows and soothing voice. Jesus told stories and broke bread with a few folks at a time, not always the boisterous crowds. He listened carefully and hung out with the no-names. He fell asleep in a boat during a storm. The ordinary abides in the extra ordinary, and vice versa.
Ordinary Time is a time for us to discover that in Christ, our lives are filled with grace, forgiveness and hope. We live as people of faith, “new creations in Christ,” not just on Christmas and Easter, but also during the times in between where most of life takes place.
Kathleen Long Bostrom, Retired PC(USA) Minister and Author of over 50 books, most of them picture books for children
Today’s Focus: Ordinary Time
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God, we turn to you for strength, truth and love. Help us see in each other your own image, which connects us all together, so that we might show compassion, mercy and grace to all whom you love. Amen.