Counting the Time
The word “ordinary” in this context does not mean “common” or “normal” the way it does in colloquial English. Rather, it comes from the Latin word “ordo” meaning series, order, or rank. So another perhaps better way to render the name of the season in English would be Ordered or Counted Time. This facet is preserved in a very old tradition of counting the Sundays of the season after Pentecost, or in classical Anglican prayer books, after Trinity Sunday.
This season contains within it the symbolism of our current Christian life, nestled as it is between the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Christ's return in glory celebrated in Advent. In many ways, the Christian life is one of “counting the days” until Christ’s return. We use the time to watch and prepare as our Lord commanded us, and to do everything in our power to invite all people to do the same by proclaiming the Gospel to them. As such, the traditional readings assigned to this season emphasize the teaching ministry of Jesus, his way of making disciples, and the path of Christian spiritual growth using the ancient categories of purgation (repentance), illumination (growth in holiness), and glorification (final perfection).
But the very idea of “counting the days” is a pregnant one in this context. The Christian life in this present age is not always or even often very easy. Many forces in the world, most importantly our own inner impulses, constantly rail against our devotion to Jesus. Rather like how on a long run, as our muscles and lungs burn within us, we can barely think of anything else but how many miles remain. In this age we encounter all kinds of difficulties as we live into our repudiation of the world, the devil, and the flesh. We experience heartache, loss, disappointment, uncertainty, and even still the frustrations of decay and death.
It’s not difficult to understand why the cry of the saints is “how long, O Lord?”
But as we count the time, we also remember the promise of our Lord to always be with us, to comfort and strengthen us, and finally to usher his beleaguered church into perfect glory. We don’t know when that day will be, but our Lord’s presence and action in the past surely assures us of our inevitable future with him. That’s why we count the days after the events of salvation history, to remind us that even while wait, we do not wait as those without hope.
This season encourages us to cling to the tokens of Christ’s continuing presence among us—his Scriptures, his Sacraments, his Body in the world the Church—and to continually reorient our struggles in this world to them. Let this season be one of renewal for you, renewal of spiritual discipline, Bible study, and worship. Let us recommit ourselves to be the Lord’s disciples. The days until our final homecoming will surely pass more quickly for us if we do.