“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Today, the twenty-eighth and last Sunday after Pentecost, brings to a conclusion the great – perhaps long is a better word for it – season of time after Pentecost. For that matter, it brings to an end the entire cycle of the church year. Next week at this time, on the First Sunday of Advent, we will find ourselves in a brand-new church year.
In some church circles, the season of time after Pentecost that we have just concluded is called “ordinary time,” perhaps to distinguish it from the string of extra-ordinary events in the life of Christ and the Church recounted in the liturgical calendar from Advent to Pentecost. After all, not much seems to happen during the time after Pentecost. There are few, if any, great feasts or fasts of the Church. And the liturgical color remains standard-issue green for months on end.
But the time after Pentecost has traditionally been a good opportunity for study and reflection in the life of the Church. And that in itself is significant. For while folks sometimes tease that Episcopalians do not read or study the Bible, the reality is that our worship is firmly grounded in scripture, and perhaps never more so than in the time after Pentecost. This past year, for instance, in our Sunday lessons we have been reading the Gospel of Matthew pretty much straight through. Ditto for several other books of the Bible, including Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the seminal works of the New Testament and our Christian faith. So while these long months of time after Pentecost are sometimes thought of as down time at Church, they are anything but.
Ordinary time may have another sense to it as well when we consider that we are today still living in the time after Pentecost – quite literally. Let’s see. If the original Pentecost occurred about the year AD 33, give or take, that would make about one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five years of Sundays after Pentecost. So, if the math is right, we have already surpassed the one hundred thousandth Sunday after Pentecost. That is a lot of ordinary time in the ordinary lives of ordinary people like all of us.
But that is also a lot of sanctification. Some pretty extraordinary things have happened during these ordinary times. Great saints have inspired us with their learning and holiness. Bishops, rectors, priests, and deacons have come and gone at thousands of cathedrals and churches near and far. Important movements and reforms have arisen in the Church and brought people closer to Christ.
And we have been born, baptized, fed at the Lord’s Table, and lived out our lives and common faith together. We have fed the hungry – if we have heeded today’s gospel account from Matthew. We have given drink to the thirsty, and clothing to the naked. We have tended the sick and visited the prisoner. We have helped others on their journeys and in their struggles. Not once or twice, but day in and day out. Not bad – for being ordinary people in ordinary times.
Truth is: nothing is ever really ordinary about God’s plan for us. Not our birth. Not our life. Not our work. Not our family or friends. And certainly not our death. As humorist Garrison Keillor might say, “We are all above average in the eyes of God,” every last one of us. For in everything we are and do, we share in the very life of God. And that is pretty extraordinary. Just ask anyone.
As we now bring to a close our liturgical ordinary time, listen carefully to the story of God’s extraordinary love for us as recounted in scripture and in our prayers and hymns. Celebrate the extraordinary in your own life, and know that the uncommon gift of God’s love is yours in every ordinary moment of time.
For when God’s amazing work of salvation is over, and when the last star has dimmed, God’s love will persevere, and our faith and deeds in this time and place will remain forever extraordinary and real. And from eternity, as our Gospel account assures us, “The king will say … ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”