Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ordinary Time

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Today at the midday healing Eucharist, I will wear a green stole for the first time since February. Easter was fifty days of white that concluded with Sunday’s blazing red for Pentecost. Before that was forty days of Lenten purple. So much has happened in our liturgical cycle during that time that I can hardly remember seeing the altar bedecked in green.

We call the seasons after Epiphany and after Pentecost “ordinary time” because they are not attached to a particular feast of the church. We celebrate Advent, Lent, and Easter for a block of time, and each Sunday in them is described as being “of” or “in” that season. With the exception of a few special celebrations that are observed on a Sunday, however, the rest of the year is reckoned by what has come and gone as Sundays “after” Epiphany or Pentecost. By the time we get to Advent, we will have endured almost six full months of ordinary time, when even the most enthusiastic preacher can get weighed down by the doldrums of summer. Although that time is quickly approaching, today, as we stand at the very beginning of this long stretch of liturgical green, I find the return to the ordinary surprisingly refreshing.

Apart from the seasons of the church, people have a hard time enduring special occasions that stretch on and on. After a lengthy trip to a foreign land with its exotic menus, many of us are thankful to be home where we can eat a simple grilled cheese and tomato soup. Black-tie occasions are fun, but they lose their appeal after six or seven nights out in a row. Weddings are great celebrations for family and friends, but guests are exhausted by festivities that start on Wednesday morning and stretch through Sunday afternoon. How much rich food, fine wine, and late-night partying can a person handle? Although it may not be exciting, returning to normal can be the most important life-giving opportunity we have had in a while.

In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air as signs of God’s never-failing provision. He does not ask us to remember the manna in the wilderness or the jar of meal that sustained Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and her son as signs that God has the power to intervene in headline-grabbing ways to sustain us. Instead, he calls us back to the ordinary. There is great power in remembering God’s presence in the ordinary blessings of life. In Matthew 5, Jesus encourages us to pray to our Father and ask only for our daily bread—just enough of the simply nutritional staple to sustain us for another day. We may prefer a banquet fit for a king, but recognizing that God’s ordinary abundance has already provided us with enough is where faith begins.

The vibrancy of our relationship with God may be awakened on a mountain top, but it is sustained through daily prayer. This week, as we bid farewell to the Easter season, the Daily Office has given up the exceptional “Christ Our Passover,” which we have used every morning during Easter in place of the invitatory psalm, and has returned to the “Venite” and the “Jubilate,” which are far more familiar. Saying the same words every morning for six months can feel monotonous, but there is also great comfort in returning to the word we know so well. Perhaps we should note that there is a reason we pray the Lord’s Prayer every day and that no one seems to complain that those simple yet majestic words are too ordinary.
Where are you in your walk with God? If you are still basking in the radiant light of the empty tomb or the transfiguration or the pillar of fire or whatever transcendent encounter you have had with God, I encourage you to stay there and embrace it. If, however, that light has dimmed and you no longer feel its exceptional warmth, consider the beauty of a single, ordinary candle. Don’t ignore the simple and plain things in life. God meets us at the top of the mountain and then journeys with us back into ordinary life. If we only look for God in the spectacular moments of life, we will miss him when we need him most. Commit yourself to a daily walk with God, and discover God’s abiding presence in even the most ordinary times.

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