One of the aspects of Baptism of the Lord is that it is the beginning of the first cycle of Ordinary time in the Liturgical year. Personally, I always held a little bit of frustration with the title because it just did not seem special, and in a way, everything in church should be special. But the world as it sits within the liturgical year becomes a pointer to the way a service is structured.
In a typical Sunday morning service, our worship is made up of two things, Ordinary elements, the things that don't change like the Lord’s Prayer and the Passing of the Peace, and the Proper elements, the things that do change like the prayers and sermons. The balance between the predictable, ordinary, and the changing, proper, elements is a spiritual practice that will both feed and challenge individuals.
I remember a few years back when we had left out the Lord’s prayer during a communion service, to this day that was the most complained about thing I ever did in worship. After worship one by one over a dozen people came up to me to let me know how much they missed reciting it. One person summed it up when he said that as a new Christian it was his ‘Rosetta Stone’ to help him understand the message and the rest of the service. This was a clear witness as to how the ordinary elements help us to understand the proper ones.
In the same way, the liturgical year is made up of many seasons but two types of services (no, not contemporary and traditional, that refers to style); you guessed it, ordinary and proper. In our tradition, every Sunday is meant to be a celebration. Unlike some traditions that place a big emphasis on individual repentance or spirituality, and others that are calling for pious acts and solemnity, we see worship as a celebration; yes, some may say that we even see it as a party to celebrate our lives with Christ!
The Proper seasons focus us on specific aspects of our faith. For instance Lent and Advent call us to look inwardly asking how we might prepare our hearts and the Easter season, which calls us to ask how we are living out our salvation. The Ordinary seasons (between Epiphany and Lent and again between Pentecost and Advent) have no specific focus. While there are “holy days” (Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration in the winter and Pentecost and Christ the King in the summer) every Sunday of ordinary time should focus on themes and connections found in all of the proper times. In other words, Ordinary time should help us to see the full picture of God, which will help when we focus into the proper seasons.
Like the man who spoke of the Lord’s Prayer being his Rosetta Stone, Ordinary time services fill in the pieces that are needed when we focus on the special service. Think of it this way: if you only came in the Proper times of Christmas or Easter you would understand God very differently than you do when you come year round. So, yes, this time of year is Ordinary, but when it comes to our faith it is anything but ordinary, it is an important time to focus on hearing and seeing the whole picture of God and to grow so that the Proper times are even that much more meaningful.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen