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With Pentecost two days behind us in life’s rearview mirror, the Church enters that long stretch of “Sundays after Pentecost,” also sometimes known as “Ordinary Time.” By my count we have 24 Sundays to go in the Revised Common Lectionary Year A cycle before Advent hits on November 30. That’s about 46% of a year’s worth of Sundays. Depending on where Easter falls in a given year, Ordinary Time can stretch out to even a little bit more than this year’s chunk.
This year Ordinary Time catches up the last weeks of spring, all of summer, and most of autumn. In the Midwest the leaves that have finally greened up after our desperately long winter will be withered and off the trees again once Ordinary Time runs its course. Family vacations will come and go during this time. Students who just charged merrily out of their schools for summer holiday will have four months of next fall’s new school year under their belts by the time Advent kicks off a new church year. In the U.S. we’ll mark the Fourthy of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving across the next 24 weeks. A couple women I know who just found out they are expecting a child will be entering the final trimester come November 30 and will, God willing, have their babies before Easter comes again.
All of which is my roundabout way of saying that much of life really does happen in the ordinary times and seasons. In church year / Lectionary terms, we devote 7% of a year to anticipating Jesus’ birth, maybe 15-20% of the year to Jesus’ ministry during and after Epiphany, about 12% to Lenten reflections on suffering and sacrifice, and roughly another 15% to post-Easter reflections.
I am not going to try to do the math on this next item but if Christmas, Lent, and Easter occupy around 40% of the church year’s calendar, that means we focus on a pretty small percentage of Scripture texts for a pretty big chunk of the year. There are only a couple real Advent/Christmas texts to go around and the total number of chapters in the Gospels from Palm Sunday to Easter add up to something like maybe 30 chapters (out of the Bible’s total number of 1,189 chapters).
So a big chunk of non-Ordinary Time in the church year typically catches up about 3-4% of biblical chapters. Of course, we can associate all kinds of Epistle, Prophets, Psalms, and other Old Testament texts with things like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter but it’s striking how few biblical chapters center on (narratively at least) the main seasons and observances of the church.
All of which brings me back to the long stretch of Ordinary Time we now enter. A big chunk of our lives as Christians fall into that ordinary category–not just literally in terms of a church season but figuratively at all times, too. But there is a whole lot of Scripture to consider during those times, and as important as Luke 2 is for Christmas or John 20 is for Easter, all those other texts God has provided may well fit all those other long patches of life in which we try to make sense of ourselves before the face of God and in the midst of this often turbulent world.
The times and the season may be “ordinary” in some sense but God’s Word is richly extraordinary throughout its warp and woof in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. For preachers it is a fine season to explore all those other books and chapters that we may otherwise neglect even as all readers of the Bible can do the same in devotions and Bible studies. After all, this Ordinary Time is also the “Season after Pentecost,” and we can be pretty sure that the Holy Spirit of God was poured out not just to charge things up on that first day of Pentecost but to keep leading God’s people ever deeper into Scripture throughout all the ordinary and average days that were to come after Pentecost, too.