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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Of Holy Days & Ordinary Time
June 30, 2011

Most Presbyterians celebrate the Christian year to some degree – Christmas and Easter, at the very least, and usually Pentecost. Many also participate in the church’s seasons of preparation for Christmas (Advent) and Easter (Lent), and some continue to observe Christmas through Epiphany, and Easter through Pentecost. Often these seasons are reflected in special colors for banners, paraments, stoles, etc. The church’s calendar roughly divides the year in half – for half the year we pay special attention to the birth, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus, and the other half we call “ordinary time.”

Paul notes, “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6)

Whether we mark the liturgical year matters less than whether our observation honors the Lord.  For some folk, honoring special days and seasons is a wonderful aid to learning and expressing our faith, while for others it feels too ritualized. I have grown increasingly grateful for the liturgical year, because it assures that we do not omit part of the Bible’s story simply because we never get around to it.

For instance, we just observed Trinity Sunday on June 19. The lectionary offered the Great Commission as the Gospel for the day, reminding us that just as the Father sent the Son to proclaim the Gospel to the world, so the Son sends the Spirit to empower us to continue proclaiming the Gospel in Christ’s name. Before I began following the church year, I rarely addressed the mystery of the Trinity in Sunday sermons; but now I do so at least once each year. So, for me, observing the special days of the church year is truly helpful.

Trinity Sunday marks the end of the Easter cycle, and now we settle for the next six months or so into “ordinary time.” The word “ordinary” is itself significant – it does not mean “not special.” It is tied to the word “ordain,” and “ordinary time” reminds us that God has ordained that we live as a holy people not just on special days, but always.

We ought not miss how radical Paul’s teaching on “special days” really is. One of the most significant features of the Old Testament is its stress on the special day called Sabbath. None of the Ten Commandments is reiterated as often as the Sabbath command. It lies front and center of the story of a people covenanted to keep the Lord’s commands. Yet Paul is so bold as to suggest that it can be set aside. The important thing, he says, is not whether we observe one day as holier than others, but whether we practice holiness every day. That said, I want to be sure to go on record as saying that I think that it is crucial that we regularly set aside time where we cease work and recharge our bodies and souls. The Sabbath day may not be inherently more holy than others, but it is still a boon to healthy living.

The upcoming week will be filled with holiday celebrations. “Holiday” is drawn from “holy day,” which means a day set apart for something special. I am a Canadian by birth, and I must say that my heart will swell with pride tomorrow on July 1, Canada Day – the same will happen for most Americans three days later on July 4. A week from today, on July 6, I’ll mark one of the most important days in my life, when Tammy and I were sealed in the lifelong covenant of marriage. As blessed and important as such anniversaries are, their observance does not by itself make us better patriots or spouses. Our love is proven not by how we celebrate anniversaries, but in the daily grind of life. So with our life as Christians – what matters most is not our observance or lack of observance of holy days, but rather our ability to receive and accept all of life as “ordinary time,” time ordained by the Lord for our continual growth in faith, love, and service.

Walking with you day by day,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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