Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part IV): Salvation and Ordinary Time

The fabric at church was all changed back to green this week, signalling that we are back in ordinary time. Ordinary time comprises the largest portion of time in the church calendar (see image). The current season of ordinary time lasts until Lent (the other  one is between Pentecost and Advent) Ireton, in her book The Circle of Seasons, gives more meaning to the name:
The word ordinary is rooted in the word ordinal, to count.  Thus these "days between," as writer Wendy Wright calls them, are not simply ordinary in the way we use that word -- uneventful, unimportant, boring -- but are actually "Counted Time," time that counts, that matters.  Designating the bulk of each liturgical year as "Ordinary Time" is a profound way of recognizing that the daily, ordinary rhythms of our lives are sacred [...] that God is just as present in the grittiness (and the glory) of an ordinary day as in the great celebrations of Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. (61)
Since learning about Ordinary Time in college, I have found this view helpful and relevant.

But what does this have to do with salvation? Isn't salvation what we celebrate in the spring? Why, then, did I include it in the title of this post?  It turns out that salvation has everything to do with ordinary time.  I am still reading N. T. Wright's book, and I have been realizing how much our understanding of things like 'heaven', 'salvation' etc, affect our daily Christian life.  Importantly, with respect to salvation, we must understand that "it is about the present, not simply the future" (Wright, 200).

But first things first.  What is salvation?  What is being saved? Wright takes great pains to emphasize that it is not a disembodied soul which is saved.  And nor are we saved just to 'go to heaven when we die'.    Rather, Salvation is "being raised to life in God's new heaven and new earth" (198).  There is, of course, much more that could be said about the theology of salvation, but this will suffice for this post.

What does this have to do with the present, you ask?  Wright explains,
For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God's new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present.  We are saved not as souls but as wholes. (199, emphasis added)
The kingdom of God, or 'the kingdom of heaven', begins to make more sense in this light.  Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, all start to fit together.  And, as Wright points out, salvation is "about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us." (200)  Thus, the mission of the church has everything to do with salvation.  And the life of the church is lived out in ordinary time.

I don't think I really understand the implications of this in my own life yet, but I want to.  Thankfully, God does work in our daily lives, changing us, helping us to see and to grow.  The light whose coming into the world we just celebrated at Christmas is still in the world, ever growing.  Oh, that we would all grasp this in our churches!  What could better express this longing than that prayer taught to us:
Your kingdom come, your will be done - on earth as it is in heaven.


  1. Wait, isn't this all Epiphany? Am I getting confused? I thought between Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday was all Epiphany, when we celebrate the coming of the wise men, and Christ as the light shining to not just the Israelites, but us, the Gentiles. That's obviously a celebration of Salvation as well, but, I'd never heard it referred to as ordinary time.

    In the Episcopal prayer book it's counted as Epiphany the whole way through, and Ordinary time doesn't start till that one span after Pentecost. I didn't grow up in a church that was particularly holding to the church year, so this is all relatively new to me, since college. Are there some variations between denominations as to how the sections of the church year are labeled?

    Just Curious.

  2. haha no you're not confused - there are variations. (And I missed a post on epiphany entirely, which probably made it more confusing). You are correct, some traditions do call the entire season Epiphany.

    This question deserves more of a response, so I will do a bit of looking into it and then clarify things.