The Extraordinary Celebration of Ordinary Time
The full Senior Cross Service is held in Goodson Chapel for the first time since 2019
Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School opened in 2006, and Since Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity School opened in 2006, the Senior Cross Service has been held every year for graduating students—even when the pandemic forced the service to be held only via livestream and when crosses had to be distributed outside. This year, the service and distribution of crosses were able to be held inside Goodson Chapel again. Music was provided by the Chapel Band, and the lectors were two of the graduating seniors. You can watch the full service here.
The Statesville Glass Company in Statesville, N.C., created the stunning Pentecost Window in the Westbrook Building, and each year they create small glass crosses that are distributed to the graduating seniors during a service that includes a sermon and time of blessings. There is a seven-year rotation of the colors, with each color representing a different season in the liturgical calendar. This year the color is green.
Remarks by Chaplain Meghan Feldmeyer Benson
In the Christian liturgical calendar, green stands for Ordinary time. I couldn’t help but laugh, since as I think about most of your Divinity experience, it feels rather like extraordinary time. For those of you who are graduating, if you’ve been here three years, nearly half of your Divinity experience has been within this dreadful pandemic. It began with an email from Duke on March 10, 2020, telling you not to come back from spring break. And then the dominoes of doom began to fall as the world progressively drew to a halt. Your class had some additional blows that summer, even beyond the national grief and outrage over George Floyd—word in May that one of you had a glioblastoma, followed by word in July that another of you had been shot in a drive-by shooting. For more than a year, many of you did not set foot on campus. Didn’t see the cherry blossoms and red-buds, and the trees turn to flame behind the Goodson glass in the autumn. Didn’t see each other! Most of your world was via screen, via Zoom. This year there was a return to campus, with extraordinary things like masks and regular Covid tests becoming rather ordinary.
These things will make up the stories you one day tell future generations in the future when this time of pandemic is more of a hazy memory. And in hindsight, this season may leave you all with some good stories. But in the living of it, only those of you here on this journey know how much parts of this season may have been marked by exhaustion, isolation, fear, estrangement, anxiety, high emotions, low energy. Only you all will really know the difficulty of laboring over lectures and coursework via a screen, sometimes with kids in the background, sometimes crushingly alone, when there are multiple national traumas also hitting you in the gut. There have no doubt been moments of grace too, and I hope those moments become more prominent in your memory as time passes. But your Duke Divinity journey has been a mix, with unique losses. Even more than the usual challenges of seminary. I want to name that.
But, back to green and Ordinary time. If you talk to many liturgical scholars, they will argue rigorously that Ordinary time is not called ordinary because it is ordinary; it is called ordinary because it is marked by ordinal numbers.
This irks me. Because what’s so wrong with being ordinary?
By definition, ordinary is what is expected in the normal order of events. We are creatures of habit and ritual, and having a general pattern to our days with reasonably predictable events is part of what injects feelings of comfort and security. That is part of what has made the last few years so difficult—all of our ordinary structures and foreseeable futures have been upended. The reality is that so much of life is lived in the grace of ordinary days, between the penitence and preparation of Advent and Lent and the joy and wonder of feast days. In the midst of seasons of feasting and fasting emerges Ordinary time, returning us to the beauty of normal rhythms, and the gift of predictable routines. I suspect I am not the only one here who has come to yearn for the gift of ordinary days in the midst of times that feel so chaotic and hard and unpredictable.
The green of Ordinary time is a reminder of the new life and new growth that emerges in these simple, familiar, even boring, everyday moments. For all of the extraordinary moments you’ve carried these last two or three years, when you look back, I suspect it is many of the ordinary moments that you will remember, just as it was the ordinary moments you likely missed the most in the pandemic—the late-night study groups, spontaneous hallway conversation after a compelling or confusing lecture, shared meals with friends on chairs not tethered to tables, laughing without masks, singing in worship without fear, communion with Hawaiian bread and grape juice. It is in these perfectly ordinary and yet breathtakingly beautiful moments that God weaves the fabric of our days. And that God has been weaving all our days this whole time—some of you can even begin to see the tapestry as you look back, and look ahead.
My prayer is that these green crosses will remind you of God’s patient presence in the ordinary, that we should not take ordinary moments for granted. May you discover all these ordinary and extraordinary days have been places of new growth, new learning, and renewed trust in God’s good future. When you all look at these crosses, my desire is that they do not simply remind you of the challenges and complexity of this season—but that they remind you hardship is never the end of the story. God’s glory will not be contained—not in a womb, not in a tomb, not by powers and principalities, not by pandemics. Green reminds us that God is doing a new thing, with all us ordinary people.
May these crosses remind you of ordinary hope, and the many people who’ve shared this unique season together. And the celebration that you all did this thing, in this very strange season. And you are done! We will truly miss you.
The Senior Cross Service was held on April 12, 2022. Each year the graduating class selects the preacher for the service, and this year they chose the Rev. Dr. Sangwoo Kim, senior director of the Methodist House of Studies and the Wesleyan Formation initiatives, co-director of the Asian House of Studies, and a consulting faculty member.
“Friend, today take your cross. Go bring God’s news of love to people. I cannot guarantee that you will have a successful and promising career ahead of you, but I can tell you that when you take Jesus’ yoke on you, when you go to people to share what God tells you to share with them, something beautiful can happen. Stay tuned for the voice of God, and go and bless God’s people.”