After Easter’s empty tomb and the red blaze of Pentecost, the long green that runs from June through November: Ordinary Time. This is the season we now enter, in the Christian year.
You might be forgiven for thinking that it is by comparison just a little dull. “Ordinary” in fact stands for the numbers that order the weeks—Second Sunday after Pentecost, Third Sunday after Pentecost, etc…–but the name conveys well enough the every-day character of this time. The great bouleversement, the world-upending events of Good Friday and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, are past, and we have heard the name of God on Trinity Sunday. This is the time that follows.
It is a time distinguished not by in-breaking so much as by unfolding, not by the explosion of those great moments of salvation but by the steady unfolding of weeks in the time of salvation. This is life as most of us live it most of the time, life in the regular round; ordinary time.
But when the church claims this time for Christ’s own, names it the time after cross and empty tomb, it names it something much more than ordinary. The time becomes taut with promise, and news of God’s reign keeps erupting, salvation (as it were) peeking around the corners of the everyday.
Ordinary time is, it seems to me, a bit like the Shire. Hobbits are possibly my favourite people in the world. Hobbits, they themselves would tell you, are not heroes. Wizards and Striders are heroes. Hobbits on the other hand enjoy second breakfasts and birthday parties, a good pipe and a good joke. “Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking” (Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue 1). Yet it is a Hobbit and his friend who carry the ring to Mordor. It is a Hobbit who resists the pull of the Ring to possession and to power, when Men cannot and Wizards and Elves do not dare try. It is a Hobbit who can pity even a Gollum, and spare him, so that even Gollum can in the end play a role in redemption. Hobbits, of all people, stand at the centre of the great battle for the soul of Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam Gamgee from the green and ordinary Shire.
What is the power in their ordinariness? “There in that green and pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living…They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it” (Prologue 1). They were, in fact, sheltered: Their pleasant place is a gift of grace.
In the movie, the Shire is brilliantly, beautifully green—and this seems to me just right.
This is what life looks like wrested from the darkness (and lo, it was very good). The Shire’s ordinariness is precious, because it has been won and is being won for a price. Behind the ordinary life of the Shire (that ordinariness of hearth and home and field that is its happiness) lies a whole history–of heroes and battles and dark places, of long roads and the struggle in the human heart, of friendship and betrayal, of power-hunger and steadfastness. It is a story that spans heaven and hell, darkness and the dawn. In the lee of this great story, the Hobbits live and thrive, and their green days are a sign of the battles that have been fought, and an assurance of the dawn.
Just so we live, in ordinary time. Behind the days, the good news: this cross and empty tomb, this great gift of God with us. Ordinary time is the time made possible by grace.
It is life sheltered by the cross, green with the resurrection.
And its ordinariness is essential. In the unfolding of the weeks in the aftermath of Easter, God reclaims time.
Ordinary time is God with us, the great gospel promise working itself out in this everyday, redeeming the time. In this time the history of God’s people unfolds as we move through Genesis and Matthew and Romans in the Sunday readings, the narratives of the faith. It is in so many ways an ordinary history, full of people rather like us, Abraham and Isaac and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers; love and jealousy and birth and loss and grief.
And in this history, repeatedly, God with us. Hagar, discovering God with her when she has been cast off; God with her in the desert, giving water for the life of her son. (“I will make of him a great nation,” the Lord says. And so the blessing to the nations promised in Abraham begins, here with Hagar alone in the desert and Abraham’s other son.)
Jacob, later, fleeing for his life because he has stolen his brother’s blessing, and that night seeing heaven opened and the angels of God. “Truly God is in this place, and I did not know it,” Jacob says.
God is, in fact, at work, choosing a people for himself, hallowing a people for himself. Ordinary time is the place of the presence of God. God makes of our ordinary lives a ladder that reaches even to heaven.
In ordinary time, this world is named the place of God’s blessing. This is the precious earth and we the people God has spent himself to save.
So we may be, like Hobbits, signs: signs in the joy of our living — our joy in the ordinary, in hearth and home, friendship and faith, party tricks and second breakfasts and the green Shire — of God with us, and of the battle that has been waged, waged for the beauty of the earth, for its great goodness, so hemmed in on every side by the dark places of the human heart, the heart’s capacity to tear down and to destroy, its blithe blindness. We are witnesses to the ladder that has become a cross, God with us now, on this day in this place. This ordinary day