The church banners are green, clerical collars have replaced flowing vestments, and the liturgy has settled into the rhythm of the extended Ordinary Time post-Pentecost. The church calendar revolved one turn, and I’m back to the place I began the journey last year. After the months of excitement, anticipation, suffering and triumph through the celebrations of Advent and Easter, it’s a good space for a needed breather.
There’s a sense of rest built into this six-month period even as we continue to work and fulfill our daily responsibilities. Ordinary Time gives us the space to settle into a pattern and to find a groove. We aren’t counting forward like the Third Week of Advent or looking backward like the Third Sunday After Easter, we are present in the Presence in the here and now.*
How did a Great Lakes Baptist girl land in this place of Ordinary Time? I’ve reflected on the process before and still can’t answer the “how” question. But I recognize several factors that coagulated together to form a gentle but persuasive magnetic force that pulled me in.
Christmas and Easter celebrations need advance preparation. Easter extravaganzas with confetti cannons blasting a clean-up crew’s nightmare, helium balloons floating down like a political rally and a choir singing at full-tilt are only hoopla unless I’ve thought about Jesus’ earthly deprivation and suffering for more than a few hours on Good Friday.
When I’ve eaten pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, received ashes on Ash Wednesday and reflected through forty days of Lent, then I am prepared to celebrate on Easter morning. After numerous days of darkness and sorrow I clamor for the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
America’s fixation with starting preparations for Christmas before the Halloween costumes are put away gives Christians some lead time before the celebration on December 25. While the countdown builds anticipation, it can’t replicate the intense longing of the prophets for the Messiah’s coming. When I forget the centuries of waiting for the First Coming, I forget to long for the Second Coming. I need Advent to remind me of the hope I am to hold onto and to strengthen my assurance that Christ will return.
Nature follows a seasonal pattern. Through my farmer grandfather and perennial gardener mother, I learned early about the rhythm of seasons. The crunch of a Jonathan apple on a fall day didn’t just happen. For months my grandfather oversaw the pruning, pollination,disease prevention and harvest before I could bite into a crisp red apple. I could relish each juicy bite and know this process would happen again next year, and the next year, and the next year.
A connection to nature’s pattern is easy to lose when your livelihood or hobby isn’t linked to annual recurrences much beyond April 15 and the financial year end. Multiple varieties of apples appearing year-round in the grocery store doesn’t help either. But the cyclical nature of the church calendar offers the assurance that we’ll be celebrating Epiphany, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Ordinary Time next year, and the next year, and the next year.
Need to connect to the great cloud of witnesses. The history of the Christian church, the legacy of the faithful, and the writings of theologians extend back for two millennia, and the church calendar gives me a sense of solidarity with the past.
Evangelicals tend to leapfrog from Jesus to Luther and the Reformation to today with little awareness of the many in between who took up their cross daily and followed Jesus. I find that a liturgical service connects me with the community physically standing around me and with those who’ve stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed for centuries before me.
For now I will savor the breathing space marked as Ordinary Time and relish the privilege of beginning the cycle again.
*Credit goes to Albert Haase for this line of thought from Coming Home to Your True Self (IVP Books, 2008).