Each year on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday, I open my vesting closet with a smile and comb through all of my vestments until I reach a small hanger that holds a single and specific stole. The stole is green and embroidered on each end with a Celtic knot. It was a gift from St. John’s, Roanoke parishioners Walter and Sara Miller after we’d traveled with a parish group on pilgrimage to Ireland in 2011. It is my favorite stole, due to the givers, the gift, and the embroidery, which symbolizes—like Jesus’ metaphor of the vine in John 15—our interconnectedness with God and one another. I also like the stole because its annual reintroduction into my worship wardrobe marks the beginning of “ordinary time.”
The church year is divided into liturgical seasons, and each season has an important and particular theological and spiritual emphasis. The season of Advent is anticipatory. It readies us for the coming of Christ, both in remembrance of the Nativity and in preparation for Jesus’ return at the consummation of all things. The Christmas season is a twelve-day celebration of the Incarnation. The Epiphany season encourages us to walk through the world with eyes open to both the mundane and miraculous presence of God. Lent is the season of penitence, as we vulnerably and honestly examine our lives, expressing contrition for our errors and laboring to repair things we have damaged or neglected. The season of Easter is the fifty-day joyous exaltation of the Resurrection of Jesus, with its ultimate defeat of death and promise of eternal life for us all. The Easter season ends with the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, immediately after which we observe Trinity Sunday, the one day of the year in which we wrestle mightily with the doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If you read the preceding paragraph with calendar in hand, you recognize that there is a long stretch of days, weeks, and months between Trinity Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent. This season has no name. Commonly, we refer to it as simply the “season after Pentecost.” In earlier eras of the church, it was also called “ordinary time.”
Ordinary time gained its name because its many weeks are merely marked with ordinal numbers (week 1, week 2, week 3, etc.). But as so often in ecclesiastical life, this season’s name took on an additional layer of meaning. With all the other seasons of the church year so pregnant with emphatic purpose, the long season of ordinary time grants us permission to be, well, ordinary. It is a blessed coincidence that ordinary time encompasses the summer months. Now, we can exhale, relax a bit, slow down, and simply be. In a sense, ordinary time is the sabbath time of the church year. It grants us the opportunity to enjoy one another with no motive other than that enjoyment. It allows us to pray to God as primarily a means to get to know God, rather than undertaking the more pointed prayer of the other seasons.
It would be a mistake to imagine ordinary time as a time to neglect our spiritual lives. It’s certainly not a time to check out of attending church! Rather, ordinary time is the season in which we can tend to these things for their own sake, without the sometimes-heavy weight that the other seasons carry. Ordinary time is a “light” season, we might say. For me, it provides time to focus on the meaning of that Celtic knot embroidered on my green stole: That we are one with Christ and one another, just as Jesus and the Father are one. Such reflection is especially important as we continue to emerge from the pandemic and reestablish our connections with one another. Ordinary time grants me the space to savor that reality and recharge my spiritual batteries. In that way, it is a gift…and it is anything but ordinary!