extraordinary time

Have you noticed how the high holy-days of the Christian year cluster together? In less than half a year we travel from the first glimmer of the Advent of Christ, through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, to the fifty days of Easter that culminates in the wind and fire of Pentecost. The genius of this for catechesis is obvious. Those new to the faith – young and old – are invited to join the entire community in rehearsing the gospel every year. In twenty-five Sundays the story of Jesus Christ is retold. Do you want to learn - or relearn - the gospel narrative? Join us from Advent through Pentecost and we will relive it with you. This is a potent means of overcoming the amnesia that causes the church to forget who – and whose – it is.

But what of the long season that begins after the holy-days are over? What of the nearly seven months from Pentecost to Reign of Christ Sunday? These non-holidays (along with the days after Epiphany and before Lent) have long been known as Ordinary Time. These are the ordinary, run-of-the-mill times when the church goes about its ordinary life. One can imagine all the ordinary events of such a season – summer rest (in the northern hemisphere, at least), fall bazaars, stewardship appeals and more. There is something predictable and, well, ordinary about it all.

However, Ordinary Time is ordinary only so long as the good news of the advent of Jesus Christ does not change everything – including our ordinary days and lives. A friend of mine says that her church lives as if it has an unspoken motto over the entrance that reads: “Come as you are … stay as you are.” She notices that the congregation makes everyone feel very welcome and included. She also notes that the congregation imagines that it is possible to encounter the gospel and to continue living an ordinary life. It is as if it is possible to encounter Jesus and not experience radical transformation. Then the church's ordinary days and life cannot be distinguished from any other ordinary days and lives in the neighbourhood.

I am not sure how it is that the Holy Spirit breathes daring, transformed, gospeled life into a church. I am confident, though, that nothing about the world or about the church is ordinary after the events re-told through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. To label the season after Pentecost as Ordinary Time is to lead the church to imagine that nothing has, or must, change.

Perhaps in a Christendom world it made sense to call the non holy-days ordinary. In that world it was possible to imagine that the kingdom of God and the reign of the monarch were aligned in close proximity. But in these days after the demise of Christendom we are not helped by language that reinforces the ordinariness of time. To live as Christians do – holding dual citizenship in the reign of God and in our own nation state – is to live bi-culturally between the times. This is no ordinary existence.

Paul writes: "Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Life after baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ is always an extraordinary adventure into newness of life that is full of risk and surprise. We mislead the church by calling these days anything other than an extraordinary season of daring discipleship. This is a “come as you are; leave as you weren’t” church in which everyone – liberal and conservative – is to be radically transformed by the gospel.

Imagine re-framing everything on the church’s calendar from June to November in terms of this extraordinary adventure after Pentecost. Imagine glimpsing the extraordinary call of Jesus in the otherwise ordinary, and often broken, days of our life. These once ordinary days – like our once ordinary, broken lives – are now holy days in which God's newness is at work. They are the times and places where signs of Christ’s reign break in even as we struggle to keep the faith in God’s promise to redeem and reconcile the cosmos.

In the meantime, at University Hill Congregation we are among those who have stopped calling this long season Ordinary Time. We have taken to calling these extraordinary days the Season after Pentecost. We are, after all, a Pentecostal church if we are a church at all. Our life together is a result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are gifted – charismed – with precious gifts of life from the kingdom come, already present in extraordinary ways. Ours is not an ordinary life or an ordinary time. Thank God.

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