‘It’s not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over
‘Cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky’
– Kermit the Frog
As it is with frogs like our friend Kermit, so it is with the liturgical season known as Ordinary Time – whose liturgical color happens to be green.
Tomorrow, we enter into a five-month chunk of Ordinary Time, and I find myself in a bit of a funk about it.
From mid-November to late May/early June, the liturgical color changes from green to white to purple to white to green to purple to red to white to red to white and then back to green. But from Trinity Sunday (May 31) to the Feast of Christ the King (November 22), we’re all green, all the time.
I have nothing against green, of course. As Kermit goes on to say, it’s the color of spring. It can be big like a mountain or tall like a tree. Green is good.
Normal. Routine. Humdrum. Common. Garden-variety. Mundane. Dull. Bland. Banal. Uneventful.
Those words all come to mind when I hear The O-word. If there’s a time of year when people are inclined to feel a little blasé, to go through the motions, to phone it in or even opt out entirely where their faith is concerned, it’s Ordinary Time.
You could even argue that ‘ordinary’ is a fairly generous way to describe church activities in July and August. Attendance dwindles as people – including the clergy – go on vacation. Music teams shrink from full bands to one lone strummer. Services are led by the laity or by ‘supply clergy’, and often feel like the church version of being in an elementary school class with a substitute teacher.
But I wonder if this train of thought isn’t on an express line to GlassHalfEmptyVille – and if there isn’t a parallel track we can jump on fairly easily that will take us to GlassHalfFullTown.
Is it possible that Ordinary Time is actually a great gift?
First of all, I don’t think any of us can object to the notion that special occasions are good, and I don’t think I’m climbing too far out on a limb by suggesting that ‘special’ is relative. If we don’t take a break from special, it ceases to be special.
‘When I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers. Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… [chuckles evilly], no one will be.’ – Syndrome (Jason Lee) in The Incredibles (Disney-Pixar 2004)
So we need Ordinary Time to function as a foil with the non-green seasons and services – making Ash Wednesday that much more sombre, Advent and Lent that much more reflective and Easter, Christmas and Pentecost that much more celebratory.
Secondly, I’d challenge us to consider what it is that makes all the other seasons special. Is it the different colors in our church vestments? Is it the candy at Easter? The food, family and gifts at Christmas? The songs (from O Come, Emmanuel to Send the Fire) that music directors choose to help set the tone for these feasts?
If not, if all of those wonderful things are just icing on the cake – signs that remind us of and enhance our enjoyment of the reality that the occasion celebrates – maybe that reality’s beginnings and endings aren’t dictated by the liturgical calendar.
At our church, we hosted lunches every Sunday during Lent. We baptized a teenager on Palm Sunday. We served a bajillion cupcakes on Easter Sunday. We confirmed 14 youth on and hosted a potluck lunch the following week on Easter Sunday 2.0, and wrapped up Eastertide by baptizing four children on Ascension Sunday. On Pentecost Eve, we hosted a prayer & praise service, and on the day before Trinity Sunday, we hosted an all-day workshop for churches from across our diocese.
Those activities were all fantastic, and I enjoyed being part of all of them. But there’s no doubt that they made the past several months extremely busy.
In our efforts to make Lent and Easter special, were we too busy to fully experience them? Is it possible that some of these very good activities, all done in the name of holiness, actually get in the way of us connecting with God?
Perhaps the simpler approach we allow ourselves to take during Ordinary Time provides an opportunity to engage with God in a more extraordinary way than we can during ‘special’ seasons.
After all, God is always everywhere. He doesn’t phone it in when the liturgical color is green.
And on that note, we come to my third point: whose idea of ‘ordinary’ are we choosing to live into here?
What does ‘ordinary’ look like in Heaven? What’s the definition of The O-Word in God’s dictionary?
I think we can begin to get a sense of that by looking at the first and last few chapters of the Bible – before the fall, and after the restoration. Unfettered access to God. No disease, no death, no strife, no guilt, no shame. That’s where we’ve come from, and that’s where we’re headed.
But between now and then, God enters into our ordinary times – like when Moses is tending his sheep, when Gideon is is threshing wheat, when Samuel is in bed, when Ezekiel was going about his business by the Kebar River, when Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishing – and stirs things up.
It’s believed that 40 years passed between Moses’ flight from Egypt and his encounter with God at the Burning Bush, and he spent the bulk of those decades tending sheep for his father-in-law Jethro.
Was that 40-year interval God’s idea? Or was He ready and willing to connect with Moses throughout the sheep years, but it took Moses that long to become the kind of man whose heart was open to God during ordinary times?
The truth is that God is not less present when the preacher isn’t the usual guy (I’ve often found sermons from supply clergy to be a refreshing change in style and perspective). He doesn’t need full churches, cupcakes, fancy decorations or full music teams to bring Him to church. But we need to do our part. We need to set aside what our five senses tell us and look for Him in the everyday and the mundane – to be expectant about what He can and will do.
Or, as St. Alan of Doyle put it in his third letter to the Newfesians, ‘Way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day, and it’s all your state of mind.’
I double-dog dare you (and myself) to be intentional about letting the next five months of Ordinary Time be ordinary according to God’s definition of the word, not the world’s. Let’s see what blessings, peace and miracles(!) follow.
Peace be with you.