An Extraordinary Year?

Michael Metzger

This year certainly hasn’t felt ordinary. Then again, if you follow the church calendar, every year has seasons that aren’t supposed to feel ordinary.

Ordinary Americans, including Christians, assume Christmas is over. It’s not. In the church calendar, today is the fourth day of The Twelve Days of Christmas. This season is a holy time that’s not ordinary, over and against other seasons in the year known as Ordinary Time.

Ordinary comes from the Latin ordinalis, meaning numbered or ruled. Ordinary time is measured in minutes, hours, days, months, years. It refers to an age or period of time. It’s similar to the Latin word saecularum, “secular.” Secular denotes ordinary time, so secular is inherently good.

This is why, in the church calendar, secular time is called Ordinary Time. It occurs in two liturgical seasons – between the feast of the Epiphany and Lent, and between the Monday after Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent. These seasons celebrate the life of Jesus.

The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green, denoting the church’s growth and expansion. Ordinary Time is typically 33 or 34 weeks. The remaining weeks include Advent, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. These weeks are considered so holy that time goes still.

Shakespeare describes this in Hamlet. On the dark battlements of Elsinore, Marcellus speaks to his friend Horatio of the time of Jesus’ birth. It is a hallowed season he says, a time in which life grows still like the surface of still water, allowing us to peer into the timeless depths of eternity.

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long;

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,

The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

(Hamlet, I, ii, 157)

With the stilling of time, Marcellus explains that the cock crows the whole night as though it is perpetually dawn. Even the powers of darkness are powerless. Ghosts and goblins don’t dare walk the earth. Horatio’s reply is instructive. “So have I heard and do in part believe.”

How’s that instructive? These days, few have heard and hardly any believe in all this about time and secular. This includes Christians. Most imagine secular as bad. Few recognize seasons when time goes still. That’s a loss for these believers in at least five ways.

First, they don’t know why time exists. It doesn’t exist in eternity since God has no beginning. Eternity is simultaneously Now. We, on the other hand, have a beginning, which is a temporal term. It denotes time, which is why time exists as a “moving picture of eternity.”[1] God put eternity in our hearts (Eccl.3:11) with time depicting timeless eternity that he put there.

Second, they don’t know God intimately. Be still and know that I am God (Ps.46:10). I can count on one hand the number of Christians I know who regularly still themselves. The stilling of time starts with stilling our bodies, beginning with the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude.

Third, they miss hints of eternity, such as when Jesus tells the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” After the cross, didn’t Jesus descend into hell for three days? Yes. But in the thief’s experience, he immediately “passed away” into Today with Jesus (btw, Jesus could have given the thief a tutorial on time, but I doubt he thought it appropriate at that time).

Fourth, they miss how marriage is the portal into the gospel, the great mystery of Christ and his Bride, the church. In eternity, we are wed in a sort of simultaneity that – here in time – we experience as betrothal, preparation, and consummation. In eternity, it’s Today.

Fifth, they miss the mystery of salvation. In eternity, it’s Today. Those saved long ago aren’t sitting at a train station in heaven waiting for the rest to arrive. Salvation is simultaneous. But in time, we experience it as past, present, future. Marriage is the portal into this mystery, as we have been saved (betrothed), are being saved (preparation), and will be saved (consummation).

That’s a lot to miss. We’re less likely to miss it when we read the worldwide lectionary. Four readings – history, poetry, gospel, epistles – compressing events separated by thousands of years but happening simultaneously in eternity. They follow the church calendar, reminding us that while 2020 hasn’t been ordinary, every year has seasons that aren’t supposed to feel ordinary.

Happy New Year.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (The Belknap Press of Harvard Press, 2007), 55.

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2 thoughts on “An Extraordinary Year?”

  1. Great stuff Mike! I’m new to the formalities of the church calendar – thanks for adding color to what isn’t otherwise explained very well to us “new to the liturgical” way of life.

  2. Michael Metzger

    Dave: “Adding color,” or background, is a good way to put it. I know many Christians drawn to “smells and bell” (as some put it) but don’t know the background informing them as to why the “thick” liturgical way of life operates as it does. Glad I could add some color commentary.

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