06.08.16 | by Rev. Frank Fuller
A Walk Through Ordinary Time - Year C
by The Rev'd. Dr. Frank Fuller
Ordinary Time, the season after Pentecost, is the longest in the church year, lasting from Trinity Sunday until Advent. Rather than meaning "common" or "mundane," Ordinary comes from the word "ordinal," which simply means counted time (1st Sunday after Pentecost, 2nd Sunday, etc.). Counted time always begins with Trinity Sunday and ends with Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent, from May 29 through November 20 this year.
On Trinity Sunday, the Gospel reading included Jesus’ promise that “all that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). There follow, in the next twenty-five weeks, four great narratives from the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. It is a narrative that guides us, in these Sundays of counted time, through the theology of Israel’s relationship with God that leads to the Messianic news of Christ.
The narrative appointed for Year C is the third of the three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. The Old Testament readings of Year A told the story of Christianity’s Abrahamic heritage. The second recounted in the imperfect Kingship of David the promise of the perfect reign of Christ. This year, the lessons tell God’s Messianic prophecy to Israel. The readings follow four themes: God’s faithfulness to Israel; judgment of disobedience; God’s unchangeable covenant; and its apocalyptic future.
From May 29 through July 4, we will hear of God’s faithfulness to Israel through the prophets Elijah and Elisha, told in 1 & 2 Kings, beginning with the troubled reign of the Israelite Ahab and his Phoenician wife Jezebel. Ahab gathers the people so that the Prophet Elijah can articulate the monotheistic loyalty that God expects from a people accustomed to living in the company of worshippers of the idolatrous god Baal. God’s instruction to the Israelites reflects their living within a larger culture within which several traditions contend for their faithfulness. This portion ends on July 3 with Naaman’s cure from leprosy when he reluctantly follows Elisha’s instruction to wash in the Jordan. His son says “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
God’s judgment of Israel’s disobedience is the theme of readings from July 10 through September 11 as told through by Amos, Hosea, the first Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The Lord says to Amos, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.” Then follows a series of lessons in which Israel does not conform to that line.
God’s continued promise to Israel follows the narrative of judgment; beginning with the readings on September 18, in which Jeremiah asks “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” The following lessons from Jeremiah and Lamentations point to the Gospel readings, from Luke, of the balm for the sick and lost.
The anticipation implicit in the Old Testament readings becomes more urgent, beginning on October 18, when we read Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Lord “will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” The readings that follow, from the prophets Joel, Habakkuk, Haggai, and Isaiah, are apocalyptic in nature, directing us to consider the new covenant with Israel that they were waiting for, and to consider the return of Christ for which we are waiting.
Jeremiah, on November 20, has the last word: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” He shall reign as king indeed, for this is the Sunday of Christ The King.
The following Sunday begins Advent, when the church begins a period of penitence as well as anticipation of both the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the apocalyptic return of Christ. This year, we will enter Advent through a season after Pentecost filled with the study of God’s prophetic record of faithfulness, judgment, promise and redemption for Israel, and for ourselves.