And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1 (NLT)]
Did you notice how crowded your church was Easter morning? To accommodate the crowd, our northern church had additional worship services and set up chairs at the ends of the pews and in the narthex. Our Florida church in the park rented extra chairs and people arrived more than an hour early to grab a seat or stake out a patch of grass for their seating. What a contrast Easter’s “standing room only” worship is to the next Sunday’s service. In seven days’ time, what happens to all those people? We know they’ll return for Christmas but where are they until December?
I grew up in a church with hymn boards in the front of the sanctuary that displayed the liturgical church date and the day’s hymns. I loved seeing “First Sunday in Advent” because that meant there were only three more Sundays until Christmas (and all of the fun that came with it). “Palm Sunday” with its promise of Easter in just a week was always welcome. For most of the year, however, that sign was uninspiring. The weeks after Easter were simply noted as the first through the seventh Sundays of Easter until the arrival of Pentecost fifty days later. A long series of Sundays followed Pentecost, starting with the First Sunday after Pentecost and, as much as twenty-eight weeks later, ending with the last one. Those months between Easter and Advent pretty much lived up to their church name: Ordinary. I often felt like we were just marking time until something important, like Christmas or Easter, happened.
What I didn’t understand as a child is that Ordinary Time in the church year doesn’t mean dull or commonplace. “Ordinary” comes from the Latin word ordinalis which refers to numbers in a series. Ordinal numbers tell the position of something in a list and, in Ordinary Time, the days are counted as they relate to major church celebrations. Just because Christmas and Easter commemorate specific events in the life of Christ doesn’t mean any other worship service is less special or important. Rather than celebrating events in His life, in Ordinary Time we celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives. If we think about it, the really extraordinary events in our lives usually happen in ordinary times!
There is nothing in scripture that demands observance of a liturgical year—it’s just one of those church traditions followed by many denominations. Whether or not we observe Ordinary Time, however, our worship should never be ordinary, sporadic or missing altogether. The message of the resurrection doesn’t end once the eggs are found nor does the significance of the risen Christ stop when the last of the jelly beans and chocolate bunnies are eaten. The promise of our salvation doesn’t disappear when Easter dinner is finished nor does it return when December finally arrives. The glorious Easter message is everlasting and our God is worthy of corporate worship Sunday after Sunday. Christ’s resurrection brings us love and grace, peace and redemption, not just on Easter but on every ordinary day in our lives. After all, every day with Him is extraordinary!
The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake. [Basil Hume]