Ordinary Time, Ordinary Means

The whole of the Church calendar is swallowed up from Advent to Pentecost. This six month period celebrates and officially commemorates every significant event of the gospel from the birth of Christ to his death, resurrection, and ascension; it ends with the observance of Pentecost (the giving of the Holy Spirit).

In other words, you have a good six months of the year set aside for celebrating and commemorating the “big” events in the life and gospel of Jesus Christ. You have Sundays set aside for the celebration of the cosmological truths of the Ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit and a whole month and some change just for fasting and repenting.

Then, suddenly… nothing. Nothing for a good six months between May and December.

Ordinary Time

This time of relative inactivity (along with the short time between The Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday) is known as “Ordinary Time.” What a boring name right? We have a whole half year devoted to one big event after another just to find ourselves in the mundaneness of the “ordinary.”

In the eternal season of things, we all sort of live in this period called “Ordinary Time.”

The writer of Hebrews begins his letter by telling us that in the past, God spoke to the Hebrew fathers by the Prophets. he did this in “various and sundry ways.” Well if that’s not an understatement, I don’t know what is! These “various and sundry ways,” included talking donkeys, burning bushes, split seas, thunderous clouds, fire from heaven, and instant death… just to name a few. The writer of Hebrews goes on to add that “in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). We know this to the be final revelation of God in his Son, Jesus Christ through whom he healed the lame, caused the blind to see, and even raised the dead. This Jesus is the one who was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. This Jesus is the one who then ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God from whom he also received and poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Jesus is the one who worked powerfully through the Apostles, causing them to do “greater” works than even he did.

Wow. That’s a good nearly four-thousand years of magnificent, earth-shattering, cosmologically significant events that shook the world, changing it forever.

Charlton Heston’s melodramatic depiction of Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956) portrays how we sometimes think of the miracles of the Bible. It is disappointing then that we find ourselves today not crossing seas on dry land, raising the dead, or calling fire down from Heaven; but living seemingly normal, average, and even mundane lives. How ordinary.

Just as we live in a time of no seemingly significant gospel events or cataclysmic miracles; these are months with no significant gospel events to commemorate (in an official way anyway). There are no miraculous signs to observe and no vast seasons of prayer and fasting in Ordinary Time. It seems to us to be a dull, boring, and appropriately named season in the life of God’s people.

Ordinary Means

Since the time of the Reformation, theologians, pastors, and churchmen have used a similar term to refer to the means by which God saves his people; They are called the ordinary means of grace.

These seemingly ordinary means are four; word, water, wine, and bread.

While God may have “spoken to our fathers by the prophets,” including thunder from Heaven and pillars of fire; he speaks to his New Covenant people through his Son and through his Word. He has ordained that men and women in the Church shall hear his voice through what some call the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:18-25). That is that God’s man with God’s book should stand and proclaim God’s Word to God’s people, the Church. The Apostle Paul, himself living in a time of Apostolic signs and wonders, nevertheless tells young pastors like Timothy and Titus to “preach the Word”; “teach what accords with sound doctrine”; and “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Far from a burning bush, this is a man with a book… and yet we believe that God is speaking.

Most of us take showers or baths everyday… or at least we ought to. If not, then hopefully we at least wash our hands a few times a day. I doubt any of us thinks that something eternal and cosmological is going on with the use of water. However, when it comes to the Sacrament of Baptism, something quite eternal and cosmological is taking place. Being that it is the outward sign of an inward grace that has already been received “by grace through faith” alone (Eph. 2:8-9); it isn’t that the water itself is actually doing anything of eternal consequence. But it is what God is saying through that rite that bears eternal and salvific weight. For he testifies to everyone watching and to the recipient, “this is my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.”

A Scottish Sacrament, by Henry John Dobson

A Scottish Sacrament, by Henry John Dobson

Also, in the Lord’s Supper, through ordinary items like bread and wine, God himself invites us to his table, brings us there by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and communes with us on the presence of Jesus himself. Through a simple meal, God conveys sustaining and much needed sanctifying grace to weary saints in need of nourishment.

In these seemingly ordinary means, God is powerfully at work in saving, sustaining, and speaking to his children. The means may seem trite, mundane, and ordinary but the ends which they produce are anything but. God brings extraordinary things to pass through ordinary means.

It is no accident that the liturgical color for this season of Ordinary Time is green. It isn’t the deep rich blues and purples of Advent and Lent, nor is it the stark whites and reds of Easter and Pentecost; But it is green, the color of growth, life, and vitality.

Even though we might not look around to find biblical plagues, parting seas, and resurrections everyday, we can trust that God is still at work in growing, building, and cultivating his Church.

These months are not to signify a time of God’s inactivity or “down-time,” but they are to remind us that while our faith is one built on the miraculous and cosmological; it finds its purpose and mission in the everyday, mundane, and ordinary things of life.

Our faith finds its true calling not only in the dramatic events we read of in Scripture, but in our jobs, schools, communities, and families.

Like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, we may want to stay on the highs of Advent, Holy Week, and Easter year-round; But we must follow our Master as he comes down from the mountain. We too must pick up our cross and turn our face toward Jerusalem.

Until Christ breaks through the ordinary with the brightness of the glory of Heaven, let us work diligently for him in this ordinary time. The night is coming soon.

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