When I was in elementary school, I always hated the post-holiday writing assignment, “What I did on my (summer/Christmas/spring break/fill-in-the-blank) holidays.” I truly enjoyed the holidays – they were often high points of our family life – but they were over. Writing about them was not so interesting because I was ready to get on with the next thing. Holidays were a lot of extra work: planning and packing, getting food ready, searching out gifts, travelling and visiting – and of course, the inevitable cleaning up. It was actually nice to get back to routine, to the ordinary daily-ness of life.
Ordinary Time is the very utilitarian name the Church often uses for the “green” seasons of the liturgical calendar – the time of the church year outside of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. It is the time we are now in. Over the course of the next few weeks before Lent begins, and then picking up after Pentecost in June until the end of November, we follow the Gospel of Matthew as he traces the life and ministry of Jesus as he moves from his baptism in the River Jordan to the events that lead up to his last weeks before his crucifixion and resurrection. It opens with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord and closes with the Feast of Christ the King (or the Reign of Christ.) We tend to focus our special devotions and energy on the major festivals but it is the incredibly rich “ordinary time” of Jesus’ public ministry that provides us with the breadth of his teaching and his compassionate actions that give vigour to our own daily life as followers of Jesus.
It is not in the Christmas hospitality or the Lenten discipline but through the daily routines of our lives that our faith is lived and flourishes or withers. Just as Jesus had to work out what it meant to be revealed as the Beloved Son at his baptism and through the temptations, and choose to live that vocation faithfully and fully in public, so we have to figure out how we will live our Christian faith in the everyday encounters with ourselves and others.
How do you respond to a hostile neighbour, a defiant teen, an indifferent co-worker, a generous mentor, a loving spouse, an ill child, a terrifying villain, a confused friend, a leader whose vision you do not share, a politician you did not vote for, a needy beggar? You fill in the blank. This is the list of the people you meet in your daily round of life. The baptismal vows we make (see p. 158 of the Book of Alternative Services) or the rule of life (on p. 555 of the Book of Common Prayer) give us a framework for making the small, everyday decisions that accumulate into a pattern of behaviour over a lifetime – not what is brought out, dusted off and polished up for the festivities, but the real, meaty, perhaps even often boring routines that announce who you really are and what you believe.
Fanfares are a feature of great occasions – the welcome of a Queen, the entrance of a bridal procession, the opening of a great performance. But one of my all-time favourites is by the American composer Aaron Copland: the powerful and majestic “Fanfare for the Common Man.” J.R.R.Tolkein, in Lord of the Rings, wrote, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Queen Elizabeth echoed this in her Christmas message this year. “But to be inspirational, you don’t have to save lives or win medals,” she said. “I often draw strength from meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things: volunteers, carers, community organizers and good neighbours; unsung heroes whose quiet dedication makes them special.
“They are an inspiration to those who know them, and their lives frequently embody a truth expressed by Mother Teresa, from this year Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She once said: ‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’”
The recipients of the Order of the Diocese of Toronto exemplify that. They make an extraordinary witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and help to change our world for the better by the accumulation of small acts done with great love.
Ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary time.