February 27, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture: Psalm 145:1-3 (NRSV)
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
Our relationship with God is enriched by special times, times of celebration, like Christmas, or times of repentance, like Lent. But we also participate in the blessing of ordinary time. God’s mercies are new every morning. And, with the psalm writer, we bless God every day.
Today is Monday in the eighth week of Ordinary Time. Depending on your particular experience as a Christian, that sentence may or may not mean anything to you. For the first half of my life, I would not have known what it meant. Ordinary Time was not a concept I understood.
Then, when I was preparing for my ordination as a pastor in the Presbyterian church, I took a class in “church polity.” For the first time, I learned that some Presbyterians, along with Catholics, Anglicans, and many others, structured their life of worship by what was called the Liturgical Year or the Christian Year. This formation of the year had seasons with which I had some familiarity (Lent, Advent) and special days that I loved (Easter, Christmas). But I never knew before I took that class, for example, that Easter was considered by many Christians to be a fifty-day season called Eastertide. (If you’d like to learn more about this subject, see my article: “The Christian Year: An Introduction.”)
It was in my polity class that I first learned about Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is basically the time during the Christian Year in which there is not a special season or holiday. After the 12-day celebration of Christmas and one day of Epiphany, we enter the first week of Ordinary Time. It continues until Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent.
So, today is the Monday of the eighth week of Ordinary Time. The next Monday in Ordinary Time is three months away, because for 13 weeks we’ll be in the seasons of Lent and Eastertide. Following Eastertide comes Pentecost Sunday, after which Ordinary Time begins again, continuing to the beginning of Advent (4 weeks before Christmas Day). So, depending on when Advent begins, there are either 33 or 34 weeks of Ordinary Time in each Liturgical Year.
When we hear the phrase “Ordinary Time,” we naturally think it means something like “Normal Time” or “Common Time.” After all, it’s the time when nothing special is happening in the liturgical calendar. But the original meaning of “ordinary” in the phrase “Ordinary Time” is different. It has to do with the numbering of the weeks of the year, based on the Latin from which we get the phrase “ordinal numbers.” (Ordinal numbers are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.; cardinal numbers are 1, 2, 3, etc.) So, Ordinary Time is time that is ordered or numbered according to its place in the Christian year.
Yet, for those of us who follow the Christian Year, there is a sense in which Ordinary Time is, well, ordinary. It’s normal time, typical time, not-particularly-special time. During Ordinary Time we do not have special seasons like Lent or special celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
By saying this, I do not mean to criticize Ordinary Time. For one thing, we need normal times to accentuate the special times. If you left up your Christmas decorations all year, they’d quickly lose their seasonal specialness. It’s like that when we come to the worship life of the church. But Ordinary Time has value besides its ability to highlight exceptional times of the year. It’s during Ordinary Time that we focus on the basics of human life: work and worship, love and laughter, eating and sleeping, playing and praying.
During Ordinary Time we relate to God in the usual way. Again, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with this. In fact, I think relating to God in our usual way can be quite right and quite wonderful. Consider the first verses of Psalm 145, for example: “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever” (145:1-2). The main point in these verses is the endless nature of the psalm writer’s praise. He will praise and bless God “forever and ever.” But such everlasting praise comes day by day. It’s something that happens “every day.” You could say that the psalmist’s praise for God is ordinary and normal. It’s what he does day after day. Yes, there will be special holy days, times set apart for celebration or repentance. And those days are surely wonderful. But the core of the psalm writer’s relationship with God is what happens day by day by day by day.
Psalm 145 encourages us to bless the Lord, not just on special occasions, but every day. You could say this is the blessing of ordinary time. But there is another dimension to the blessing of ordinary time. It’s what God does for us day after day. God doesn’t save up blessings to dole them out only during holy days and holy seasons. Remember the beloved words of Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God’s steadfast love fills ordinary time. God’s mercies are new every morning. No matter the season of the year, God’s faithfulness is great. Because we receive God’s blessing in Ordinary Time, we offer our blessing to the Lord every day, even and especially in Ordinary Time.
P.S. Later this week, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. If you’d like to learn more about this holy day and/or the season of Lent, I’ve created several resources you might find helpful: The Christian Year: An Introduction; What Is Ash Wednesday?; What is Lent?; Resources for Lent.
P.P.S. Many Christians, myself included, find it helpful to structure our worship according to the Christian or Liturgical Year. However, this is something about which Christians can differ. Nothing in Scripture requires following the Christian Year, though the elements of the year are all based on Scripture.
What does the Christian Year mean to you, if anything?
Do you bless the Lord every day? If so, how? If not, why not?
How would you describe your “ordinary,” day-to-day relationship with God?
If you are familiar with Lenten disciplines, decide what you plan to do (or not do) in the upcoming season of Lent. If you’re not familiar with Lent, you may find it helpful to read my article, What is Lent?
Gracious God, thank you for the special times of year, times of celebration and joy, times of penitence and quiet. Thank you also, Lord, for the ordinary times. Thank you for being present in these times. Thank you for the fact that your mercies are new every single morning.
Help me, Lord, to bless you every day. May I bless you with my words, offering praise and thanks. May I bless you with my actions, living in a way that glorifies you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archve, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Calling on God in Truth
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
I first heard the phrase “in ordinary time” when I started listening to Pray as You Go. org. I assumed it meant every day but since my denomination doesn’t include celebrating the “church year” so to speak I really liked your clarification. And I enjoy the richness of joining my fellow believers in their Church year celebrations. Wed. I will join my daughter’s church on Zoom for Ash Weds. services; and I will participate in Lent privately. Psalm 5:3 Blessings Margie
Thanks, Margie, for your comment.