From Epiphany to Lent, how do we see Jesus in Ordinary Time?
“What do you wonder?” I ask my seven-year-old after I’ve read aloud the Bible story of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. This is the story where Joseph and Mary follow Mosaic law forty days after Jesus’s birth by visiting the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-38). “I wonder if they report Jesus to the king,” she says. The “they” she’s talking about are Anna and Simeon, two elderly people who had faithfully served God. They had recognized the baby Jesus in the Temple as the special one prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Excellent, I think. She has made the connection from the Bible stories our family shared during Advent and Christmas. King Herod, who doesn’t want a rival, is still lurking in the background, even if he wasn’t mentioned in this story.
As I write this, it is Epiphany, or more specifically, the season after Epiphany, lasting through most of February this year. Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of Christmas for Catholic and Protestant churches, January 6, a day we celebrate that Jesus was born for all the nations. We do so by remembering the three magi who traveled from afar to pay homage to the little child. The season after Epiphany is considered an “Ordinary Time,” signified by green liturgical colors, before the seasons of Lent and Easter.
During the major church seasons, Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas, resources for family prayers are abundant, but during the “Ordinary Time” between Christmas and Lent, and after Pentecost (the celebration after Easter of the Holy Spirit being given), resources are sparse. What I love about the major seasons is how devotional activities enwrap my family in the ongoing story of Scripture. We read Bible stories, especially from the Gospels, seeded with some from the Hebrew Scriptures, except during the season of Easter, when we read stories about the apostles in Acts and the Epistles in preparation for our celebration of Pentecost.
Ordinary Time gets overlooked, and I’ve wanted my kids to be immersed all year in the grand narrative of Scripture in a way that honors the church calendar. For Ordinary Time after Pentecost (summer through part of November), we read through stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, especially hitting on those regarding God’s covenants with his people and our need for redemption: Creation and the fall, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, and continuing into stories of Elijah and Elisha. Once Advent starts, we begin the early Gospel stories again.
For many Christians, three special events of Christ’s life are celebrated on three Sundays during the season after Epiphany: the baptism of the Lord, presentation of the Lord, and the Transfiguration. Because the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus with three of his disciples on a mount, is the close of the season, my family and I have ample opportunity to read several Gospel stories located in Scripture before this key event. I’ve found that the book of Luke presents a good number of the stories before the Transfiguration, leaving many other central ones afterwards that we can read during Lent. Although our church distributes family devotions for Lent that may overlap, my kids won’t mind. A good story remains a good story.
The following are the stories we are reading from the book of Luke itself or one of our illustrated Bible story books, which are legion in our household because my husband once sold Christian books.
Jesus Presented in the Temple (2:22-40)
Jesus Visiting the Temple as a Boy (2:41-52)
John the Baptist in the Wilderness (3:1-14)
John the Baptist Baptizing Jesus (3:15-38)
The Temptation of Jesus (4:1-14)
Jesus’ Reading of Scripture in the Synagogue (4:16-30)
Jesus’ Healing in Capernaum (4:31-44)
Jesus Begins Calling His Disciples (5:1-11)
Jesus Heals a Leper and a Paralytic (5:12-25)
Jesus Calls Levi (5: 27-39)
Jesus and the Sabbath (6:1-11)
The Beatitudes (6:20-36)
The Tree Known by Its Fruit and the House on the Rock (6:37-49)
Jesus Heals a Servant of a Centurion (7:1-10)
Jesus Resurrects the Widow’s Son (7:11-17)
John the Baptist Asks a Question (7:18-35)
The Woman Who Anoints Jesus’ Feet (7:36-50)
The Parable of the Sower (8:4-15)
The Parable of a Lamp Under a Jar (8:16-21)
Jesus Calms the Storm (8:22-25)
Jesus Heals a Man Who Is Demon-Possessed (8:26-39)
Jesus Heals a Woman and a Daughter (8:40-56)
Jesus Sends out the Twelve (9:1-9)
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand (9:10-16)
Peter Recognizes Jesus as the Christ (9:18-27)
The Transfiguration (9:28-36)
There are 26 stories, which may not seem to be enough for a long season after Epiphany, like this year. However, not only do time conflicts one or two days each week keep us from family prayers, but we tend not to have family prayers on Sunday. Secondly, for many of the stories, we’ll ask our kids to retell it the following evening with wooden peg people, something I’ve learned from the children’s spiritual formation curriculum, Godly Play.
In line with Godly Play, my husband and I also ask after we’ve read a Bible story, “What do you wonder about this story,” or “What do you think is important in it?” For our younger daughter, we may ask, “What do you like about it?” Their insights can be inspiring to our faith as parents, or occasionally, they have misconception we can talk about.
When we read the story of John in the wilderness, a long discussion ensued about people needing opportunities to pray alone and the fact that some Christians will do some crazy-sounding things (eating locusts) to have that time. I found myself convicted to carve out my own prayer time more often with the knowledge that my kids may understand why.
This season after Epiphany is when we burrow more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. It’s a time when we name the baby in the manger as the Anointed One, as Simeon and Anna recognized, and as the disciple Peter eventually did before the Transfiguration in the book of Luke. We’ll also witness the Pharisees’ skewed suspicions. It’s not a “dead time” in the calendar, but the broaching of the escalation we will experience in Lent when we identify our own doubts and misgivings about God’s Son.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.