If you attend St. Peter’s and are ever bored during the sermons (not that any of us ever would be, our dear pastors), you may have noticed a very small line of fine print that exists toward the bottom of our weekly service sheet.
To be honest with you, I had hardly ever noticed that line (probably because I am such a good
brown-noser sermon-listener, of course) until I served as the church administrator this summer and it became my responsibility to update said service sheets every week.
The line reads Nth Sunday After Pentecost. At least it does right now. During Advent, it will say nth Sunday in Advent, as it will during Lent.
Updating that part was painfully unexciting each week: 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 10th. And so on. This goes all the way into the twenty-somethings. Um, forgive me, Lord, but what makes this predictable uptick so important?
Even if you don’t go to St. Pete’s, your church may do something similar, indicating which Sunday it is in what we call the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar’s word for this repetitive season after Pentecost that we are currently in is Ordinary Time. Yes, really. The same people who coined words like “Liturgical” and “Epiphany” and “Lent” and “Pentecost” are the same people who were like, “well, what should we call this long stretch here? Oh, I know! Ordinary!” Creativity abounds.
But here we are. Stuck in the thick of Ordinary Time. For my budding liturgical scholars out there, we are almost exactly halfway through this stretch of Ordinary Time, between Pentecost and Advent. And it feels like it, does it not?
Much like a child might look forward to his or her birthday every year, Christians have anticipated mile markers throughout the year as well. These are the times that are supposed to be the occasions we long for, where we recognize the biggest, best and brightest days. The ones that remind us of who we are and where we come from. These days exist for these exact reasons: to remember, to celebrate, to feast, and to remind us of the most important parts of our story.
I live for a good milestone celebration. I am a sucker for re-told stories and cherished traditions. Which is why, yes, my faith thrives on the big Christian celebrations each year, namely Christmas and Easter. There’s nothing like a cold, wintery version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and I always am shocked at just how infrequently I ever read the end of any of the four gospels, unless it is Holy Week. Some of you are tracking with me: these traditions, recognizing the miracles that came before them so many millennia ago, are what gives the Christian faith rhythm and purpose.
But, again, here we are. Smack dab in between Easter and Christmas. Too chilly for a sundress; too early to make a Christmas list. What is even the point? And my faith feels it too.
Where are the miracles?
The Winter solstice of the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time starts to dim between the two bright, anchoring lights.
Yes, yes, there are indeed other markers along the way. Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Advent, Epiphany, and so on. And yet, right now, we’re far from them too. There are no stories of tongues of fire or virgins conceiving during these days.
Where are the miracles?
God wraps himself in the ordinary– namely, in Jesus Christ– as a way of reminding us that he is with us always.
I’ll say it: I get sort of woozy around the word “miracle.” Are miracles real? Do they still happen? What are we supposed to make of them in scripture? These are questions worth exploring, and yet, with Christianity does come some flashy, The Onion-like headlines. For better or worse, these are the miracles that make us Christians and Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, if the resurrection is not real, then neither is our faith (paraphrased). This belief that the divine can intervene outside of the bounds of our natural world is critical. Without getting into the apologetics of miracles, I think part of the point is we’re supposed to know that God is a wild, outside-of-the-lines God. And so we celebrate liturgical seasons founded upon the biggest miracles of all and what’s even more amazing is that sometimes we even see that same author God colouring outside of the lines in real-time, during those seasons. Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in more notable ones, but we tend to recognize them when we look.
Because we’re looking for them. Imagine that.
So what are we looking for in Ordinary Time?
For me, I am usually looking at a computer screen–or screens of all types–most days. As often as I can, I try to enjoy our city’s gorgeous landscapes. I spend a lot of time looking at to-do lists and a dishwasher that needs to be loaded or unloaded or a grocery basket or my favourite: a bathroom in need of a good scrub. There is no special music or lights or even special liturgy really, barring the regular year-round practices of things like prayer, to keep me inspired and aware.
I noticed this the other day. I was listening to a playlist of Christian hymns when a “resurrection” one came on, I think it was “Crown Him with Many Crowns“. I was amazed at how this sparked my spirit in a way I wasn’t expecting as a grumbled through making dinner. It was almost like my soul, somewhat tired and indifferent these days, leapt at the announcement of resurrection, as if being suddenly awakened while nodding off. It was reminded of the truest thing it knows. I admittedly skipped an Advent hymn, because, obviously, no Christmas music until after Remembrance Day (I’m learning Canadian rules!).
Cultural faux pas aside, it is funny how we settle into these rhythms. Advent equals longing, Christmas equals arrival, Lent equals fasting, Easter equals resurrection, and Eastertide joy. But in Ordinary Time, I am finding myself so wander-y. Perhaps “Come Thou Fount” should be Ordinary Time’s flagship hymn.
And then I remember that multiple gospels remind us that Jesus’ own friends didn’t recognize the risen Lord himself, even when the miracle was within an arm’s reach. Why would they even look for him? Nobody rises from the dead. But it didn’t make him any less alive or present, right in front of them in fact. They simply did not turn their heads.
So what would happen if we looked up? Looked for what we thought was unreasonable, or for us cynical types, simply started looking for Jesus in the most impossible, ordinary places.
It’s not an accident, this space we call Ordinary Time. It’s not a mishap or a lifesuck. It’s purposeful, because so much of the Christian faith and the story of God is a bunch of ordinary people, in ordinary circumstances, living ordinary lives. God wraps himself in the ordinary– namely, in Jesus Christ– as a way of reminding us that he is with us always. In the classroom, the boardroom, the Granville Room.
Miracles may anchor us, yes. But they do not sustain us. Jesus made that very clear. His presence dwells with us in the here and now.
If miracles are lost on you, I get it. Likewise, your ordinary might just be too dark to even care. But let me offer just one more thing. The miracle of all miracles is the one that none of us can refute or escape: we are loved. You are loved. Unconditionally, fiercely, wholly. Just for being you. Regardless of whether you think Jesus is a phoney or whether you are chained down by shame or whether you are even capable of looking in the mirror and loving yourself. The miracle is the God of the universe loves grimy, insecure you.
There is nothing ordinary about that. Look up.