It sounds so basic, doesn’t it? After the drama of those mountains and valleys between Advent through Pentecost, “Ordinary Time” sounds like a long, dreary drive across North Dakota. Those of us in congregations not using the church calendar are familiar with the high points of the first half of the Christian year: Christmas and Easter. Ordinary Time? Not so much.
The name Ordinary Time does little to commend it to people who hear “boring” in the word “ordinary”. It makes it sound as though there’s nothing much happening now that all the big holidays are over.
“Ordinary” comes from the Latin word ordinarius, which means “order.” An ordinal number names a thing in its relation- ship to a set—for example, third in line. This is in contrast to cardinal numbers, which describe how many of a thing there are—for example, five crayons. The use of ordinal numbers in the context of the church year refers to the number of counted-upwards weeks between Pentecost and Advent, when a new Church Year begins.
The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and days point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. Ordinary Time invites us into the ongoing mission that began in the book of Acts. Today, a quick intro to the longest season on the Western liturgical calendar.
Ordinary time is a way in which you and I – and all of us together as the Church – live out the Pentecost reality: We are the church in the world and for the world. In the kingdom of God, nothing is ordinary.
This excellent post at Internet Monk offers some excellent thoughts about the meaning of this season, and ways in which we can be formed by its emphasis on service, outreach, and vocation.
The long final movement of the Western Church’s Christian Year stretches from now until late November or early December, when Advent begins. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church doesn’t have a direct equivalent to Ordinary Time in their calendar. Instead, the Eastern Church has a series of feasts commemorating other aspects of salvation history through the entire year.
Where and How?
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus’ instructions are the foundation and scaffolding for each day of our individual lives. The Holy Spirit, poured out on Pentecost, empowers us to go and do what he commands, to the glory of God the Father. Ordinary Time allows us as gathered, called-out people to focus in worship, teaching, and prayer on his mission. It is a reminder, too, that this task-gift was given to the Church. We are not each individual one-person armies. Jesus gave these instruction to the corporate “you” – all of us, together. The scope of the calling is too big for any single person, yet each one of us in the kingdom has an equally essential role to play in that mission.
Here are a few helpful resources to get you started if you’d like to know more about how churches using the liturgical calendar worship during Ordinary Time:
A Biblically-ground ecumenical approach: Christian Resource Institute offers a helpful overview to Ordinary Time worship
The Church of England: Links to the Scripture texts for each week of worship in Ordinary Time
Being the Church for the world: A Catholic writer discusses what children have to teach us about Ordinary Time