The period of “Ordinary Time” makes up the bulk of the church year, and we’re in the midst of it now. But this past spring, even when the season was Easter, I noted that biblically, even extraordinary time can be treated rather ordinarily. I noticed that there isn’t much in the Bible that tells what happened in the forty-day stretch from Easter to the ascension. Mark says not one word about what happened over that almost six-week period. Once Easter is finished, Luke is pretty quiet as well. Matthew gives us the Great Commission but nothing else. Only John is a bit more expansive. But what it all adds up to is not much. For those forty days we are told virtually nothing about what happened.
Why? You wouldn’t guess it would be so. If anything, you would guess that what Jesus said following his universe-changing resurrection would have been among the most significant words he ever spoke. But if our curiosity is piqued, the Bible does nothing to sate it. Recently I was struck by how casually Luke refers to a dinner with Jesus in Acts 1:4. “On one occasion, while Jesus was eating with them, he gave them a command.” On one occasion. Luke simply throws that in as though he were talking about something common, like dinner with his Aunt Millie or something. But given who their dinner companion was–a man they had watched die recently and who even now was eating with holes in his hands–why can’t we find out more of what he had to say then and throughout those forty days? How often did they dine together? Was Jesus around a lot or just occasionally? We don’t know.
Could there be a message in even the biblical silence? Recently I heard hymnologist Carl Daw say that formally trained musicians are taught that as important as it is to learn how to play musical notes, it is equally vital to learn how to play the rests. Sometimes organists must play the rests, “playing” the spaces on the musical score where there are no notes, no sounds to be made, but only a pause, an absence, a silence. The silence is part of the melody. The gaps contribute to the tune.
Maybe the Bible’s treatment of the post-Easter/pre-ascension material is like that. It’s mostly a gospel rest. Yet it is so unexpected. Long about the time when you’d think the whole New Testament would explode in a flurry of words about what Jesus did after being raised from the dead, instead you suddenly get a forty-day rest.
Why? I am by no means sure. But maybe it is a reminder of what a lot of our Christian living is like even to this day. Most of our daily living is not filled with spiritual highs, keen insights, neatly resolved problems, or a complete absence of difficulty. No, even with our risen Lord alive and well, we still have to get out of bed every morning and go through the routine of our days. We run the gauntlet of carpools, piano lessons, soccer games, and school programs but more often than not, we go through those days without hearing our Lord speaking anything particularly new to us.
Spiritually speaking, most days we play the rests. And were it not for the fact that even the gospels are good at playing the rests, we might conclude that most of our days must be a kind of spiritual vacuum. But maybe one thing we can carry away from the New Testament’s rather surprising forty-day silence is the idea that when we likewise have quiet days in which we play the rests, those days nevertheless contribute to the spiritual melody of our lives. One of the few things we do know that Jesus said after his resurrection is “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That means he is with us on our rest days just as surely as on those days when we do see an answer to prayer or when we do feel led spiritually in a very definite direction.
So in this ordinary time of the Christian year, we may well be playing the rests in the tune of discipleship, but the tune nevertheless goes on. He is with us. Always. Even in the silences of life. Thanks be to God.