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Having celebrated Pentecost and Trinity Sunday on May 23 and 30 respectively, this past Sunday was the first Lord’s Day in what we call Ordinary Time.    This year we will be in this liturgical season clear through the end of November or about 25 weeks.  As a season, Ordinary Time accordians a bit depending on when Easter falls.  Although Advent and Lent and Eastertide are always celebrated for a fixed number of weeks, the Sundays after Epiphany (which some people also call Ordinary Time) and Ordinary Time proper can vary in length depending on whether Easter comes as early as late March or as late as late April (Easter floats with the lunar cycle but that is a whole nother tale!).

It turns out this season has not been around for terribly long in church history.  Near as I can tell, some sense for a season called Tempus per Annum in Latin emerged from the post Vatican II liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church.  “Ordinary Time” became an established liturgical period only as recently as 1969 and designated the time after Eastertide and before Advent.  Soon thereafter Protestants picked up on the term for use in their Lectionary cycles as well.

There seems to be a little debate whether “ordinary” refers to a sense of ordinals in that all the Sundays are numbered in sequence or more the Latin ordo that refers to a regular order.  Probably in common parlance most people assume that the “ordinary” of Ordinary Time means what we usually mean by the word: nothing special, typical, the opposite of anything extraordinary.  In that sense, ordinary is not always a complimentary term.  If a food critic writes that a given restaurant serves pretty “ordinary food,” the chef will not be pleased.  If a man or a woman is described to you as “ordinary looking,” you may assume he or she is pleasant looking enough but you won’t assume you’ll be bowled away by this person’s appearance if ever you meet him or her. 

If you look at most Lectionaries and the texts they assign across this very long liturgical season, you will probably notice that the focus is on the ministry of Jesus.  Scholars have long debated how long Jesus’s public ministry lasted.  If you read just the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke you could conclude that the time from Jesus’s baptism to his resurrection was a year or perhaps a little more.  But then you come to John’s Gospel and discover the celebration of Passover no fewer than three times in the course of the book, indicating that Jesus’s public ministry was at least three years.  According to a colleague, many scholars fix the time of Jesus’s public ministry between three to five years.

That alone leads to a curious observation: roughly half of any given calendar year is devoted to the longest stretch of Jesus’s work on earth.  Jesus’s birth, baptism, final week, and resurrection take up the other half of the year even though in terms of actual days or weeks those events occupied very little time.  But that reflects the gospels to an extent.  As someone once noted, all four gospels are basically Passion narratives with long introductions. 

Yet I suspect we would all agree that the ministry of Jesus was anything but ordinary in any sense of the term.  Each gospel conveys this.  Mark was written to a church that had become discouraged or apathetic.  So Mark wakes them up with an explosive gospel that moves at breakneck speed, highlighting at every turn the dynamism of Jesus and the kingdom he was bringing.  Matthew confronts his largely Jewish reading audience with the extraordinary reinterpretation of Israel’s history that Jesus taught.  Jesus redefined true righteousness, turned traditions on their head, and so revealed the true will of his Father in heaven.  Luke shows Jesus again and again stretching forth his hand to touch people and when he did, he healed people, he raised the dead, he restored the ostracized.  And John majestically presents a Messiah who is himself the living Temple of God and whose very presence transforms something as ordinary as a wedding feast or a breakfast on a beach into an amazing encounter with the living God.

Ordinary Time as a season may focus on the ministry of Jesus but we all know that means we are considering something anything but ordinary.  Christ’s presence in word and deed across those years changed everything and in Ordinary Time as at all times, we should give God the glory for how extraordinary that all is.  As my colleague Jennifer Holberg has mentioned at times, her pastor sends the congregation out each week not only with a blessing but with a reminder: “Remember, you live in a world where a resurrection happened.”  But as scholars have long noted, even that resurrection was God’s final and giant stamp of approval for everything Jesus said and did during his ministry.

And that’s not ordinary at all.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • mstair says:

    Occurs to me that we may truly celebrate the blessing of “ordinary time” this year …

    I’ll take an ordinary year in my locale – this year …
    Without pandemics, an accident, a diagnosis, relationship upheavals, natural disaster, financial crisis …
    The blessing of expectation that today might be as peaceful / normal /ordinary as yesterday was …is huge blessing … this year to be sure to give thanks for

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thanks for this. An excellent reminder. One of my favorite musical masses is by Leos Janacek, the Glagolithic Mass, written in 1926. Janacek was not a believer, though he respected and explored the words, which I think that adds to the poignancy and power of the Mass. But what I want to say, in connection with your post, that in the Veruju section, the Credo, Janacek interrupts the flow of the words with a substantial non-verbal interlude for orchestra. What is the meaning of this interruption? I am quite sure that it is Janacek’s presentation of the life and teaching of Jesus in between his Credal birth and passion, all the stuff of Ordinary Time, the life and teaching for which Janacek, the “unbeliever”, had profound appreciation of. Not ordinary indeed.

  • Dana VanderLugt says:

    I’m ready for some ordinary time! Thanks for this, Scott!

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thanks, Scott.
    We follow the lectionary, in general, as a congregation though I preach through various other sermon series, etc. For example, this year I’m preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism (old school). Ordinary time is often my favorite. It’s that time of teaching without a construct around it, sort of pleasant.
    Our designation of time is also interesting. What makes time ordinary? I know that’s not your point, and I get the lectionary desigation, but it seems that so much of life is “ordinary,” and we long for those extraordinary moments. We want the extraordinary in our relationships, for our children, in our work, etc., but I wonder if we spent a bit more time being present to our “right now” time, we might find the extraordinary all over the place. Anyway, back to my study of the Lord’s Prayer … a rather perfect series for the ordinary, but filled with so much extraordinary possibility.
    As always, thanks for getting me thinking on this lovely Tuesday morning.

  • David E Timmer says:

    In her book RADICAL DISCIPLESHIP; A LITURGICAL POLITICS OF THE GOSPEL (Fortress Press, 2017), Jennifer McBride discusses Ordinary Time in connection with the sacraments, where the most ordinary elements of life are made extraordinary by the inbreaking Reign of God. In the same way, she says, a vending machine in a women’s prison or a shower in a homeless shelter can become charged with eucharistic or baptismal holiness. That seems like an inexhaustible theme for a long season.

  • Like the congregationalist I am, I call it Pentecost season and continue with Red as the liturgical color. Much better than “ordinary.”

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