One of my favorite church jokes comes from an episode of the The Simpsons. In this particular episode, the Simpsons are attending their local church as they do every Sunday. Rev. Lovejoy, their long-suffering minister, ends up being sent an associate, Rev. Elijah Hooper. Hooper is much more hip than Lovejoy, and the people become enamored with him and turn on Lovejoy. At the end of the service in which this all happens, Lovejoy mutters, “well that was the worst 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time ever.”
I’ve had this joke on my mind a lot lately, as we find ourselves at a weird confluence of seasons. This coming Sunday will be the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Advent is just around the corner and clergy preparations for it are well underway. Christmas follows soon thereafter. Outside of the church, we’re surrounded by an increasing number of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and Christmas events. It can be hard to make sense of it all. Now, I’m not one to tell people to put away their Christmas things before December. While I have a personal moratorium on Christmas music until the day after American Thanksgiving, I’ve already had a peppermint mocha this season and I enjoy seeing the Christmas lights go up. Nevertheless, I think it’s important for us to hold on to the liturgical seasons our tradition has gifted us—and that means not only Advent, but the end of the long season of Ordinary Time as well.
Our liturgical seasons from Advent through Ascension and Pentecost are largely connected to events in Christ’s life, even if the connection can seem tangential at times. After Trinity Sunday and until Christ the King, however, we are in Ordinary Time. This generally maps onto the older ritual calendar of the church year. From Advent through Pentecost, church festivals were largely those connected to these major feast days, and after that they moved to more local celebrations. In modern times, we have lost most of these local celebrations, though, and the second half of Ordinary Time can feel somewhat like the liturgical doldrums.
What do we do with this season, then? It’s worth thinking, I believe, about the ordinariness of life and faith and exploring that ourselves and with our congregations. I love the big feasts and fasts of the church year—they feed my soul and my love of liturgical complexity. The reality of my life, however, is one of the ordinary day-to-day moments, and I am constantly learning and being challenged by how to live my faith in those moments. I wonder, where is God calling us to be present in our daily routines? In what ways can we seek blessing in the ordinary? This season invites us to ask these questions, and to examine how we can better follow Christ in our everyday lives. So while it may sometimes feel like a slog (particularly by November), this is an important season that has been gifted to us by the Church. What will we make of that gift?
This message was written by College Director of Pastoral Studies Rev. Dr. Hilary Bogert-Winkler for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.