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A case for Ordinary Time

When it comes to naming the Sundays between Christmas and Lent, Eliza C. Jaremko will always opt for "Ordinary Time."

As I prepared this week’s worship bulletin, I glanced at my PC(USA) Planning Calendar to confirm the correct Sunday in the liturgical calendar. I expected to type “4th Sunday in Ordinary Time,” but the planning calendar informed me that it the coming Sunday was the “4th Sunday after Epiphany.”

Epiphany? What about Ordinary Time?

I went to Google to double-check my assumption that the time between Christmas and Lent could be designated as Ordinary Time, and there it was: January 29, 2023, was the 4th Sunday after Epiphany or the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, depending on how you keep your liturgical clock.

I understand why many worship leaders would choose an Epiphany designation for these Sundays between Christmas and Lent. Yet, I’m a firm advocate for Ordinary Time. True, it doesn’t have the same sparkle as a season that carries us from Epiphany to Christ’s Transfiguration — and again between Pentecost and Christ the King Sunday. Instead, Ordinary Time offers people of faith a respite from special days. Ordinary Time invites God into the simple, regular passage of time.

“Ordinary,” in the liturgical sense, does not mean boring or ho-hum. Though, in truth, this time in January and February can feel that way. It’s not Christmas. It’s not Lent or Easter. Where I live in southern New Jersey, it’s cold, wet and dark. We haven’t even had the courtesy of a winter’s snow. January is so blah-ingly ordinary.

While Ordinary Time does fall during these dark winter days, it doesn’t necessarily describe our Sunday worship as “regular” or “standard.” Instead, “ordinary” derives from the Latin word ordinalis, which describes numbers in a series. Ordinary Time helps us count our days. It marks the weeks as they pass. It recognizes the passage of time. It walks God’s children through the rhythm of our days.

In fact, most of our days are pretty ordinary. Most of our Sunday services have a rhythm to them: Prelude, call to worship, hymn, confession, assurance of pardon. Most of our days have a rhythm to them: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work or school or church, make dinner, eat, read, rest, sleep. And then we repeat. While we celebrate the special days and mourn the difficult days, there are plenty of days where nothing special happens.

We have a saying in my household, which comes from a song in the “Pete the Cat” cartoon on Amazon Prime (of which my young son is super fan): “If everything is special, nothing really is.” Not every day is “special.” Some days are nondescript, and those days are important too. For it’s in these getting up and going out days that God is present with us, faithfully, constantly, consistently, ordinarily. It’s in the march of time, where we grow and serve, love and live. Even in ordinary days, there’s cause to be thankful, to rejoice.

The Bible gives us some clues about the ordinary days of Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 4:18 tells us how Simon Peter and Andrew were having an ordinary day at work when Jesus found them. Mark 2:1 tells us that Jesus was at his “home” in Capernaum when the crowds found him. Luke 4:38 tells us how Peter invited Jesus to his home with his family, which included a mother-in-law. We don’t talk about it often, but Jesus and the disciples had some regular days mixed in between miracles, healings, and sermons. They had homes, jobs and families. In between those special days, they also ate breakfast, went out into the world, came home, and slept.

For every day is special when Jesus walks with us.

Let’s reclaim these ordinary days as the time God has given us. My church will be publishing “Ordinary Time” on our bulletins for these ho-hum regular Sundays before Lent. Even if you don’t do the same, I hope you know how extraordinary it is that God is present in your ordinary life.