Worshiping God in Ordinary Time
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s the summer lull. For many churches, it means a dip in attendance as congregants are on vacation, or, as is often the case for us in Colorado, simply enjoying recreational activities in nature. And for many church leaders, it’s not usually the time for a big production or outreach event. It’s just church each week.
It is ordinary time.
Ordinary Time is also a season in the Church Calendar, the “liturgical year.” Odd, isn’t it? We know about Advent and Christmas and Epiphany; we are familiar with Lent and Good Friday and Easter; we may have even heard of the season of Pentecost. These are the supernatural events that mark God’s intervention and salvation. They are part of “extraordinary time.”
But what about “ordinary time”? Ordinary Time is a stretch where we don’t mark time by seasons or by longing or preparing or celebrating. We mark it by ordinals: The first Sunday, the second Sunday, the third Sunday, and so on, week after week after week. Time doesn’t crescendo to a feast or wind down to a fast. It just clicks by.
Isn’t life full of moments just like that?
So, what does it mean to worship God in Ordinary Time?
First, we must trust that God is there even when we are unaware. One of the most profound stories in the Old Testament is Jacob awakening from his “stairway to heaven” dream and exclaiming, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware!” A drab, unremarkable stretch of land became the “gate of heaven.” God has always been the God who turns ordinary places into sacred spaces. This God who inhabits His creation has always been the God who would come in the mystery of the incarnation: heaven and earth meeting fully and finally in the person of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, we must embrace ordinary practices. The simple and seemingly mundane work of gathering with the people of God around the Word and the Table is actually a formative practice that trains our desires. These communal rituals, as James K. A. Smith, the philosopher at Calvin College, reminds us, “shape and aim our loves.” But more than that, these practices that gather us around the Word and Table become “habitations of the Spirit”, places where we encounter God, whether we are cognitive of it or not.
What could it look like to lead our people in worship in Ordinary Time?
Consider a topical series on the “ordinary things” of life like work, family, play. For example, teach on what it means to recover a sense of vocational holiness, of seeing the “calling” embedded in our career. Help people understand a theology of work, both as it is within a fallen world and as it is being redeemed by Christ.
Or consider preaching a series on several psalms that display the range of the human experience—the highs, and lows, and lulls. Teach people how to walk honestly before God in grief and gladness, doubt and hope, victory and defeat. This is the stuff of ordinary time.
For worship leaders:
Ordinary time could be the ideal season to pare things back. If your church is used to a full lighting production, do a service with no moving lights or choose one lighting “scene” and stick with it for the whole music set. If you use visuals during worship, this could be a time to employ what my “visual liturgist” friend, Stephen Proctor, calls “visual silence”: no images on the screen; just text (and maybe a little color.) The idea is to create an anti-“Wow” moment in the hopes of breaking our addiction to adrenaline. Choose simplicity.
If your church is used to singing the latest tunes from the great songwriters of our day, choose one Sunday to sing only classic hymns, songs have stood the test of time. Make the musical treatment pure and unfettered; not intricate. Let the voices of the congregation be the lead instrument. The goal here is to break our obsession with novelty, our need to be on the “cutting edge”, to always be doing the latest and best. Ordinary time is a good time to remember that our faith is older than we are; this Story has been going on long before we showed, and will continue long after we’re gone.
Our lives are full of ordinary moments, moments without exceptional joy or crippling pain, moments where time just clicks by from week to week. Yet these moments are not devoid of the presence of God. The God who turns ordinary places into sacred spaces is with us now. We don’t need amped up production or cutting edge song selection to know this. We don’t need adrenaline highs or the newest styles to see it. We just need to come, to gather with the people of God, to submit to the rhythm and ritual of worship. We need to open our mouths and sing and pray and proclaim the Scriptures and taste the bread and cup, and exclaim aloud, “Surely the Lord is in this place.”