By Melody Wilson Shobe
Well, here we are. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter are all behind us. We’ve walked together from the mountain top of Christ’s birth, to the valley of death, and back up again to the pinnacle of the Resurrection. We have seen the colors of the church change from blue to white to celebration to purple to white to red, a rainbow of color as we pass from one important season to the next. And now all of that is over, and all that we can see stretching ahead of us is a sea of green. Out on the horizon lies week after week of “the Season after Pentecost” coming in an endless succession until we reach the next year in the church and begin the cycle again.
How silly it is that this time in the church doesn’t have its own name; it is merely called “the season after Pentecost.” The time itself is not given the importance of being named, but instead is marked only in relation to Pentecost, a day of actual importance. And this lengthy, unnamed, seemingly unimportant season is often also called “Ordinary Time.” Rather than meaning “common” or “mundane,” this term comes from the word “ordinal,” which simply means “counted time,” because we number the Sundays from here on out in order from the First Sunday after Pentecost, all the way up to the Last Sunday after Pentecost, twenty eight Sundays from now. That’s right; twenty eight weeks of this church year will be spent in Ordinary Time.
And in some ways, it might be right to think of this time as common or mundane. Because this is the usual time in the church, the time that is not marked by a constant stream of high points and low points, ups and downs, but is instead the normal, day-in, day-out life of the church. This time is a time to grapple with the nuts and bolts of our faith, not coasting on the joy and elation of Christmas, or wallowing in the penitential feel of Lent, but instead just being exactly where we are, and trying to live our faith in that moment.
Traditionally the color for this season of “Ordinary Time” has been green, and it is a fitting choice. Green has long been associated with new life and growth. Even in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the same word for the color “green” also means “young.” The green of this season speaks to us as a reminder that it is in the midst of ordinary time that we are given the opportunity to grow. Only when the hustle and bustle of Advent, Easter, and Lent has calmed down can we really focus on what it means to live and grow as Christians in this ordinary time in this ordinary world. It is a time to nurture our faith with opportunities for fellowship and reflection. It is a time to feed and water our faith with chances for education and personal study. It is a time to weed and prune our faith, cutting off the parts that may be dead and leaving them behind. And we have a lot of growing to do, so God has given us most of the church year in which to do it.
The very fact that the church has a time called “Ordinary” is a profound theological statement. It is a reminder of the presence of God in and through the most mundane and ordinary seasons of our lives. God is not only on the mountaintop or in the valley, but walking alongside each of us when the flat road stretches interminably into the horizon. In fact, the gospel reading for one of the first Sundays in ordinary time reminds us of this very fact. In Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus tells us to remember the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. They are ordinary and seemingly insignificant parts of the natural world, small and unimportant compared to us. And yet God remembers and cares for each of them. It is a reminder that when God came and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ, he experienced the same ordinary reality that we all experience. And that God, in Christ, offered us the opportunity to transform the most ordinary, mundane experiences into extraordinary events infused with the presence of God. God is there, present in the midst of the ordinary, just waiting for us to recognize it.
The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.