Using the Ordinary During Ordinary Time
Much of our life is spent in ordinary ways: walking the family dog, getting children to school, attending meetings, observing deadlines, feeding families, and attending to daily routines. Commonplace activities that compose the raw material of our days alternatively provide the comfort of stability as well as the boredom of over familiarity. This precisely is the challenge the church faces during the season of the Christian year known as Ordinary Time.
The longest season of the Christian calendar, Ordinary Time spans nearly half the year, arriving on the heels of Pentecost and concluding just prior to Advent. It provides occasions in the Christian calendar to focus on the teachings of Jesus, a critical aspect in developing faithful disciples. In each year of the three-year lectionary cycle, the Gospel readings for this season focus on Jesus’ teachings regarding the kingdom of God. In 1937, the season we now refer to as Ordinary Time was known to most Methodists as “Kingdomtide.” Many clergy used the Sundays to preach about the social gospel.
The term “Kingdomtide” is still used in some United Methodist churches, as is the more contemporary name “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary Time gets its name from ordinal, which means “numbered.” The term was first used by Catholics to express, numerically, the Sundays falling outside of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Although far from being ordinary, the Sundays following Pentecost are an excellent juncture in time to help congregants understand the significance of Jesus’ teachings on the reign of God. What does it mean to be a kingdom person? What life changes do we need to make in order to cooperate with God’s agenda for the kingdom? What disciplines and practices aid in developing faithfulness to God’s call on our lives? Not only is this a great time to read and study the social principles of The United Methodist Church, but also it is an appropriate time to develop Christian practices like prayer, study of Scripture, and hospitality, those habits of faith that support our life together as the body of Christ.
With none of the drama or importance of the “high, holy days” of the Easter or Christmas cycles, Ordinary Time risks becoming mundane or overlooked; however, it possesses its own deep significance in the celebration of the church year. Ordinary Time provides ample opportunity to experience God in the commonplace events of our lives. It is the ideal time to teach ways to deepen faith by practicing the presence of God in every ordinary moment of the day. Filled with everyday activities, Ordinary Time becomes a vehicle for fostering growth in the lives of Christian disciples.
The simple use of silence in worship can provide a means for individuals to deepen their relationship with God. What is more ordinary than silence? Yet, without silence, we cannot hear the “still small voice of God.” By quieting the external sounds in worship, we teach members of the congregation to unplug from the noise of the world to practice the lost art of listening to God. Introducing the observance of silence, or slowly expanding the use of silence in corporate worship, teaches us how to hear God in the ordinary.
Tangible evangelism is another practice that fosters growth on the Christian journey. Using simple items in significant ways during worship and distributing them to members of the gathered body to carry with them into the week ahead invite individuals to pay attention to God during the week as the items are handled. Tangible evangelism assists congregants in deepening their faith through the simple practice of awareness.
One example of tangible evangelism is the use of small pebbles accompanied with the question, “If these stones could shout, what would they say?” When dealing with social justice concerns, ordinary stones can provide some thought-provoking moments for individuals in any congregation.
I have also used tiny squares of calico cloth to aid in consideration of how God “pieces” together members of a congregation like a master quilter in order to make something beautiful for the world. Other effective items are tiny shells retrieved from the baptism font, used to remind congregants of the pledges made at their baptism. Any everyday item employed in similar fashion will help individuals repeatedly call to mind their relationship with God, an important step when facilitating spiritual growth in the lives of disciples. Tangible evangelism carried into the week serves to remind Christians of their priorities in the midst of the multiple demands of daily living.
The season of Ordinary Time need not be an excuse for dull visuals when the community is gathered in worship. This season invites creativity in worship regarding the dressing of the sanctuary because the lectionary readings for each Sunday stand on their own; they are not part of the cycle of the major Christian holy days.
Visuals are much more than decorations; they inspire us! They enable us to perceive the mystery of God, linking the known with the unknown. Visuals allow us to experience God in the present moment. When displayed artfully, they act as metaphors for articulating our faith. Simple items, used creatively, can enhance the spoken word. Shafts of wheat call to mind how grains must be crushed to make the bread used for the Eucharist. A glass bowl overflowing with grapes illustrates God’s mercy poured out in the act of the sharing the cup at Holy Communion. Both of these ordinary items operate as symbols linking us to the redeeming mystery of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Visuals play an important role in proclaiming God’s presence in the ordinary events of life during this season. Changing the shades of green on the altar illustrates the purposefulness and playfulness of God’s intention for creation. Beginning with spring green following Pentecost, changing to the deep green of summer during July, and then changing to the olive green of autumn just before Advent echo God’s actions in creation. The colors on the altar are more than decorations; they express a statement about the character of God who saturates the world with diverse beauty.
As the body of Christ gathers and scatters, may Ordinary Time bring renewed awareness of God’s abiding presence in all the minutes of your days.