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The church I grew up in was one which operated on a liturgical calendar—a schedule of worship which ensured that the “big events” of the faith were observed and celebrated. The colors of the vestments in the sanctuary would change during the different seasons of the liturgical year. During Advent it was dark blue. Lent and Easter were purple and those days between Easter and Pentecost (usually April and May) were gold and white, while Pentecost itself (in late May) was red.
So from November until May, the colors were always changing with the liturgical seasons of the church, heralding Christianity’s high points (like the birth of Jesus and His resurrection from the grave) and low points (like His suffering and crucifixion).
But from May until the beginning of Advent in November, there was basically one six-month long season. Its color was dark green and its name was “ordinary time.”
This name always used to strike me as a bit disappointing—as if it was expressing some notion that during those months, nothing much was happening between God and His people. It didn’t focus on the highs or the lows of the faith like Christmas or Good Friday. There wasn’t a lot of unfolding drama—no advent wreath candles to be lit, no dried palm branches to tie in knots, no midnight singings of Silent Night. Its focus was on the “other stuff” believers needed to know. It was ordinary time.
I came to learn later that “ordinary time” was not a way of calling that time mundane or common, but rather came from the word “ordinal”—which means “counted time.” It was time to be counted, weighed, used and invested.
Ordinary time, as time to be counted and invested, is not exclusive to liturgical calendars. Ordinary time is a common experience for every single person. We live mostly between the extreme highs and lows of our lives. I’d venture over 95% of our lives are spent in “ordinary time.” Its walking with one foot in front of the other, every day, slowly, steadily, devoted.
We’re tempted to think of this time, as I did with the liturgical calendar, as somehow less “spiritual” than the highs or even the lows of life. But ordinary time is not only spiritual, it is essential for the Christian life. How do I know this? Because the Christian life is grounded upon relationships, and relationships require time, lots of time, lots of ordinary time doing ordinary things which add up to what we know as friendship and faith.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).