We often count our lives by major events. Our photo scrapbooks are usually filled with pictures from parties, vacations, holidays, celebrations, but rarely do we have pictures of "regular days"--working, eating routine meals, puttering around the yard, or reading a book. It’s strange that we spend the majority of our days doing ordinary, routine tasks, yet we don’t tend to think about them as making up our life.
Church life is kind of like that too. We tend to associate church with Christmas and Easter. And while they are certainly important holy days/seasons in the Christian year, most of the year is spent in another liturgical season called "Ordinary Time." We are in Ordinary Time now, stretching from late May to late November.
“Ordinary” as it is used in Ordinary Time does not really mean mundane or commonplace. It actually refers to “Ordered Time,” and is a reference to the way we mark the liturgical calendar. “Ordered Time” is the time marked by ordinal numbers (the first Sunday, the second Sunday, etc). It is interrupted by major liturgical holidays and seasons, but the majority of the church year is in Ordered Time. Week by week, as we study the scriptures and worship together, we hear how God is at work in the world.
The liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green. The children at my church refer to Ordinary Time as “Growing Time.” Green is the color of growth, of vegetation, of God’s good earth, of health and vibrancy, and of the hope of new life. Farmers and gardeners—people who patiently and regularly till the soil, prune and nourish plants, and reap a harvest--understand this analogy. Ordinary Time is a time when we grow in our faith, steadily hearing, learning, and applying the stories of God. It is a time to nurture faith along.
Church life, just like our lives, is made up of peaks and valleys and long periods of level plains. Our individual lives include high points (marriages, births, celebrations, “firsts”) and low points (deaths, broken relationships, disappointments, tragedies). But most of life is the time in between. We go about our daily routines, making decisions, interacting with people, and doing what we do, and isn’t this what life is really about?
I would venture to guess that my family could count on one hand the memorable meals I have prepared over the years. (Truth be told, the ones that they would name would be the memorably bad ones!). But I still know that, day in and day out, they were nourished by those meals whether they remember them or not.
Church is like that too. I might recall fewer than a dozen sermons in all the years I’ve attended church. And yet, I know that I have been nurtured in my faith all along by hearing the word of God read, explained, questioned, and proclaimed each week, not just in sermons but also in classes, readings, and conversations. And for the most part, this all took place on “ordinary” Sundays.
And of course, spiritual growth doesn’t only happen on Sundays. As we live our daily lives, we put our faith to work. What good would our faith be if it were only exercised for an hour on Sunday mornings? Where the rubber meets the road is in our day-to-day lives—making ethical decisions at work, loving the people who are hard to love (or even hard to like), putting the needs of others before our own, choosing service over selfishness.
Jesus was a carpenter. The disciples were fishermen. The early apostles were regular folks who were transformed by the experience of God in their lives. Their days were filled with dusty roads, eating meals together, talking with others in homes and in the marketplace, and sharing God’s love with everyone they met.
So too does the spirit breathe in us in every moment of our lives. The irony is that as we cherish and treasure the ordinary moments we will come to see the extraordinary power and beauty of God’s love. And that is the gift of Ordinary Time.