Sunday 23rd January

Time and Eternity

Time, I guess you would agree, is very odd. You can’t touch, taste, see, hear or smell it. Yet we can somehow still sense it.

To a child, life appears unimaginably long yet we gradually discover it’s actually rather brief with time too often in short supply. As a busy clergyman asked: ‘What is this secret pact we sign to be on time, up to time, in time – this badge of efficiency, this standard of conduct, this key to promotion, this road to exhaustion?’

It’s a question that’s fascinated philosophers for centuries. But in spite of all our reflection, discovering and knowledge, the phenomenon of time remains profoundly puzzling. As William Cowper observed some two centuries ago: ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform!’

The concept of time is certainly a useful one with contemporary society hugely dependent on its globally agreed measurement and observation.

The writer of Ecclesiastes noted how life goes on much the same way from one generation to the next – we’re born, we grow up, we fade, we die – implying the process of time is the inevitable outcome of the physical laws of Creation.

The start of a year or any occasion which marks the passing of time always provides an opportunity to take stock – to reflect on the past, be truly aware of the present, and prepare wisely for the future.

When we look back, we can trace so much that is shameful in human history. Much of the Christian Church’s story is far from glorious as Crusades, schisms, its initial attitude to slavery, civil rights and apartheid, and the support of many Christians for weapons of mass destruction or the assault on the Capitol, all show.

Yet, we can also look back thankful for so much else that’s been good with Christ’s people sustaining God’s Kingdom against the odds. Empires and ideologies have come, withered and often vanished. But crosses, wayside shrines, humble churches, majestic cathedrals, enlightened laws, transforming movements, compassionate enterprises all witness to the resilient and winning way of Jesus.

The world remains a hotchpotch of good and evil. But, as ever, the future will ultimately be shaped by the spiritual condition of leaders and citizens alike.

We face the same momentous choices that confronted the migrant Hebrews some three thousand years ago: between good and evil, life and death, serving or defying the Persuasive Presence we call God.

As again we mark the passing of time, may we heed afresh the demands of eternity as revealed so clearly in the life, teaching and self-giving of Christ.

Revd Edward Hulme