The church marks time on the calendar differently than “the rest” of the world. It’s not about the school year or Tax Day or even really the meteorological seasons. It’s God’s time. When we live into the rhythm of the church year, it can remind us that as Christians we are called to live in and not of the world…it can help us remember that Christ shared good news for all people – and that we are not solely subject to the political world, the economic world, the educational world…we are people of God who can choose to mark time as people of God.
The “new year” begins with the first Sunday in Advent, usually in late November or the very first Sunday in December. We proceed from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany…then depending on where Easter lands (a date dependent upon the lunar calendar), there are a few weeks of “season after Epiphany” or “ordinary time” when there is nothing specific that we wait for or watch for. Then Lent comes, followed by Easter (which includes multiple Sundays) followed by a big celebration called Pentecost, which usually lands in May. And then there is this very, very, very, very, very long stretch of “ordinary time” that takes us across the summer, into the fall and ends at Christ the King Sunday in November…back to Advent.
So…this long stretch of “ordinary time”… What do we do with it? I know that I am hardwired to anticipate what’s next, to look forward to something. In the midst of the Christian year, there can be roughly 34 weeks that are “ordinary,” weeks that instead call me to be in the moment, right there in the place of life I find myself day in and day out, a beloved child of God just bumping along the wilderness road most of the time.
A lot of churches (protestant and Catholic) structure their worshiping and devotional lives around a prescribed schedule of readings – a three year cycle known as a lectionary – perhaps the most common being the “revised common lectionary” (visit a good resource here: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/). The lectionary provides a way of structuring the study of scripture through seasons of the Christian year. Some people talk about it getting boring – but some others really appreciate the cycle of revisiting texts every several years as they have experienced life and bring something new to the text each time they read it (so Abram’s call may look different to me in year 1, 4, 7, etc..because I’ve changed jobs, experienced a death or a birth, moved to a new town, experienced inevitable growth because I am human and that’s what I do). Another benefit to the cycle is that so many churches use it. You may find yourself at lunch saying to a friend, “So, during my devotion time today, I read this fascinating scripture about [fill in the blank] and I was so struck by blah, blah, blah.” And lo and behold, your friend says, “No way! I read the same story. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but here’s what I took from it...” (OK, I work at a seminary and I realize not everyone has those conversations…but you could. You really, really could…) At the very least, when you follow the lectionary, you will discover folks around you who have talked about the same scripture in church on Sunday.
Back to ordinary time: in the revised common lectionary, ordinary time is time when we learn the history of Israel or study the every day teachings of Jesus, or learn about the “heroes of faith.” Mostly it is time to “be.” Sometimes it’s called a green growing season (a reference to how it aligns with the Western agricultural calendar).
It’s that point in “ordinary time” for me when the demands of the “rest of the world” are starting to heat up. My calendar begins to fill with commitments for the kids’ schools, church, my own education and career, my husband’s school dates and evening meetings driven by the academic calendar because we both work in higher educational institutions. The church is beginning to look toward the more active seasons of the Christian year with planning underway for Advent and Christmas. It is really easy in roughly week 16 – 21 of ordinary time to be caught up in looking to other things…forgetting to just be….forgetting to mark time right now and give thanks for where God has me TODAY.
I encourage you as the world begins to press in and speed up, coming off something of a summer lull, to resist the temptation to be pulled forward into things that seem more exciting than this day that the Lord has made. It’s really hard. It’s hard with the calendar filling up to remember that today, this ordinary day, is the Lord’s day and there is meaning and purpose. But try. Really try. Consider pouring yourself a tall glass of water, a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine at the right point in the day and breathe deeply. Feel the earth solid beneath your feet. Remember that creation is an amazing and multifaceted thing. Think on where God was present with you today. And give thanks. Or cry out in pain. Or ask for what you need. But be in the ordinariness of the day.
Grace and peace go with you today…and every day.