I thought this week I would take a moment and introduce “Episcopal U.” I have been asked to teach an “Episcopal 101” Adult Formation class, but I know that in all of you I have advanced pupils! I do look forward to teaching “We Pray What We Believe” very soon in which we look at the theology of our Eucharistic Prayers. But until then, every now and again, I will muse on some factor in our Episcopal tradition.
This week I am thinking about our Liturgical Calendar. The Liturgical calendar, seemingly insignificant, actually comes to us as beauty and grace and, as has been asserted, “can keep us sane.” Our liturgical calendar reminds us that there can be no celebration without preparation. It keeps us from cheaply proclaiming hope before we’ve adequately waited, mourned, and sat in the ache of longing. We aren’t ready to celebrate until we acknowledge over time through ritual and worship that we and this world are not yet right and whole.
We are about to complete our long journey through Ordinary time. Ordinary Time is the longest season in the Liturgical Calendar indicated by weeks and months of the color green in our Altar hangings and Clergy Vestments. As a seminary professor of mine said, “God must love the ordinary, because God sure did make a lot of it.”
Our journey through Ordinary time is an invitation to claim the sacred in all things, even in the boring day in and day out of our everyday lives. There were no mountaintop celebrations like Easter or Christmas in Ordinary time, there was just a long march through the valley of keeping the faith quietly and courageously as time marched on.
During these days of COVID and anxiety over our national election, the normal invitation to “green and grow” took on new proportions. Ordinary time, always the time to listen to the hard teachings on true Discipleship and to learn to see as Jesus calls us to see, was magnified by the need for face masks, social distancing and learning to love our neighbor by staying home! Who knew that we’d ever need to serve God by doing absolutely nothing? But, that is what much of this season of Ordinary time asked us to do.
Life does not come to us as an endless banquet of happiness. As 2020 has taught us, people get sick, jobs are lost, the world’s pain boils over and sometimes, even without a global pandemic, life just creeps up behind us knocking us down for a while.
But, allowing the full spectrum of our experiences in life to move through us as one part of a whole, and as a natural part of the human equation, saves us from the helpless feelings of “Why me?” when life is interrupted by the unexpected.
And here again is why the church calendar is so helpful. The seasons clearly carry us through times of joy, times of mourning, times of fearless self-examination, times of festive celebration, times of longing and preparation---and yes long, long stretches of Ordinary Time, where the challenge can be simply to stay engaged. The full spectrum of life is there written in Green, Red, Purple, Blue, White, and even Oxblood. These colors announce times and seasons that move us through endless and eternal cycles of life, growth, and death. The flow of our Liturgical seasons can guide us to expect and embrace the same flow of seasons in our own lives.
As someone said, “Life has times of deepest grief and groaning and times of profound joy and Hallelujahs. But much of it is neither. Much of it is small and unnoticed and hums along, years spent in work, sleep, maintenance, and everydayness. And this too is honored in the church calendar. In the long days of Ordinary time, living neither in the valley nor on the mountaintop, we travel the “daily-ness of life. We learn to trust that God is still with us, working and rooting us on when it seems like both everything and nothing is happening all at the same time. This is also part of the story the church tells us with its changing seasons. Part of what it means to be human is living in and through time. And living in time is always elevated when we take the time to hallow it, to make it holy through ritual and celebration. It is a reminder that all of us mark our lives by days, months, and seasons.
We can begin to think that whatever we feel at any one time is the truest reality there is, especially during difficult times. But the liturgical calendar tells us otherwise. It tells a story big enough to sweep us up into it. It gives us a time to ache, a time to prepare, a time to celebrate, a time of repentance, a time of feasting. It says that something defines time that is truer than our circumstances and our feelings about them. It establishes a regulative tempo for our emotional life beyond ourselves into a common story with the human family.
And soon our journey through an absolutely extraordinary, Ordinary time will come to an end and we will enter the expectant waiting of Advent. I think perhaps that Advent comes right on time this year as it will remind us that our waiting, as we wait and wait and wait through this time of pandemic, Advent reminds us that with God, our waiting is tied to hope. And, of course, this pandemic will extend beyond Advent into Christmastide and beyond, but the lesson of Advent will remain. We will wait, but we will wait with hope, compassion, grace and yes, we will wait with Joy. God’s Joy is independent of circumstances and is ours in any season.
Grace and Peace,