Historically, after Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the church enters a long period known as “Ordinary Time” — stretching from the day of Pentecost (or, in the Anglican Church, Trinity Sunday) to the start of Advent — about half of the liturgical year. As foreign as it might seem to some Protestants, this division of the year is still adopted by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans. I stumbled upon this discovery only recently, and was intrigued by it.
Even Christians who don’t formally follow a liturgical calendar take at least some time out of the year to reflect about Christ’s incarnation at Christmas, his resurrection at Easter, his victorious Ascension into Heaven, and the manifold gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each of these events in the life of Christ and his church has forever changed both our individual lives and the course of human history. Ordinary Time is a then logical continuation which allows us to contemplate these realities and see them at work in our daily lives.
If we have never thought about “Ordinary Time,” 2020 seems like the wrong year to begin. Almost from the start, our lives have been overturned and stretched in many directions, moving from alarm to boredom to financial pressures to socio-political concerns.
And yet, it might actually be the perfect time to think about Ordinary Time, because these seemingly extraordinary events are, in reality, part of the ordinary human life on earth and because the overarching realities this time invites us to ponder are eternal and unmovable.
Pain, grief, illness, pandemics, economic crises, political uncertainty, violence, and riots have continued on earth since time immemorial, and will continue until the establishment of the New Heaven and New Earth. The Medieval church that kept Ordinary Time did so among all these disruptions and more.
I recently asked Asher, a young teen from Kalamazoo, Michigan, whether he wanted things to return to normal after the lockdown, or whether he had learned some lessons or habits that he would like to cultivate. I had asked the same question of some adults, who had given me predictable answers. Asher’s reply caught me by surprise: “I'm not sure how those two things are incompatible. Returning to normal was always the goal, I think, but you should always use what you learn.”
He’s right. Normality doesn’t exclude inner growth, with all the upheaval and pain this growth may entail. The pandemic, the lockdown, the protests in our streets have prodded us to think more deeply about certain issues and have provided invaluable occasions to reflect and grow in some areas of our lives, but this growth should characterize all of our existence in Christ. We should have been learning before and we should expect to continue — by God’s grace — when these specific forms of external prodding abate.
Ordinary Time is not a time to rest on Christian laurels, nor to indulge in the deception that the Christian life should be a constant effort to maintain inner peace. Our natural desire for a quiet earthly existence must not be turned into an idol or a reason for living. Living our lives secluded in our blessings and protective of whatever small achievements we feel we have accomplished will only turn us into pitiful Gollums, groping after illusions.
Thankfully, God will not allow it. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said so well in reference to the Church,
“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief moment in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of emotions, but the God of truth.”
While the realization that turmoil and upheaval are common expressions of life on earth may provide some consolation, our ultimate comfort comes from remembering that a perfectly loving, wise, and just God is in control of every situation.
I have always found much reassurance in the fourth question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
This is a deeply comforting thought if we remember that this God, who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in all these attributes, is our loving Father in Christ. All this remains constant, whether the times seem ordinary or extraordinary.
So, while we are bombarded by alarmist news, pressured to take a position on matters we don’t really understand, and worried about an uncertain future that no one — in spite of the deluge of diagnoses and proposed solutions — seems to fully grasp, we can remember we are, after all, in Ordinary Time. And I don’t mean just the yearly period between Pentecost and Advent. I also mean the ordained time between Christ’s first and second coming — a time when God is powerfully at work to accomplish his purposes, even if we don’t notice it.
This is really the original meaning of “ordinary.” It comes from the Latin ordus,
a word used to describe the way threads were aligned in weaving and, later, the way soldiers were aligned in formation. Ordinarius implied conformity to an order. And what better comfort than the certainty that God is lining all the events of our lives and of the world in conformity to his wise and loving plans?
Ordinary Time is then a wonderful opportunity to continue to reflect on the weighty realities of Christ’s Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension, and on the comfort and power he has given us through His Spirit. Instead of trying to purposely interrupt it with extraordinary events and special festivals (as Roman Catholics have done), we can bask in what the Scriptures tell us about Christ, and let the magnitude of these certainties confront the disarray of our daily experiences, the undeniable sinfulness of our hearts, and the pressing cries of a needy world.
Resting in the assurance of God’s unvarying love for us in and because of Christ, we can also let his Spirit shatter our comfortable protections in order to conform us to the image of Christ — an image in stark contrast with our selfish tendencies and our cozy ideas of normality.
This will take time — a lifetime, in fact — lots of ordinary time spent in ordinary attendance to the ordinary means of grace and in ordinary, humble interaction with those around us.
But this is what God has provided for most of our lives.
Simonetta Carr is a mother of eight and a homeschool educator for twenty years. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and a translator of Christian works into Italian. Simonetta is the author of numerous books, including Weight of a Flame and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton
"Our God Cannot Change" by Emily Van Dixhoorn
"Jesus Christ: Risen, Ascended, and Enthroned" by Mark Johnston
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1954, p. 27