One of the many minor irritations of lockdown for me personally has been not being able to take my carriage clock to the clocksmiths to be mended. It broke down in British Summertime 2020 and it was not until we were back in British Summertime 2021 that I was able to take it in for adjustments to be made.
I miss its announcing of the hour and the constant, gentle, reassuring, tick. It is like an accompanying heart beat in the home. I bought it some years ago in memory of my parents and it has had a prime and prominent position in my house and in my heart ever since. I even take it away with me on holiday. Time has been so strange over this past year. Perhaps none of us imagined that we would still be in a form of lockdown, almost 14 months after the first was announced on 23rd March 2020. In some ways it has been an extraordinarily long time, in other ways it seems to have passed so quickly. Perhaps like you, I have had more time to do things in an unrushed way. I have not had to run from one meeting to another, constantly checking my watch to make sure I am on time. There has been more opportunity for reflection, more time for reading, I have noticed that I find it easier to slip into moments of prayer and I have also been more in tune with the instinctive sense of who to ‘phone or write to. I have enjoyed not rushing my cooking or eating and having meals when I want them, rather than when I need to have them before I dash off somewhere else. I was looking at our sturdy clock tower at St Mary’s some weeks ago. The Scouts and Guides, under the direction of others, were kind enough to lower the Union Flag to half-mast following the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They then raised it again at 8am on the day following his funeral, in keeping with protocol. I remembered too always fearing on Remembrance Sunday, not getting to the right point in the liturgy at precisely 11am when the bell would ring out the hour and the national silence begin. Clocks in our church towers have been a feature of our landscape for many a long year. The necessity for this was a practical one of course. Few in centuries past could afford a time piece for themselves and, if they were fortunate enough to have one, many kept them at home. When people were in the fields or elsewhere during the working day, the authoritative notes of the church clock told the whole community what time it was, and in that it served an invaluable, uniting role in the community. As you may know, at St Mary’s we have a tower in which the blue face of the clock is set, which people can consult to check the time, assuming of course that it is correct! Some other churches have spires in which clocks are also set and this image of an architectural structure pointing to the eternity of Heaven, containing a mechanism denoting the exact moment in chronological time, I find quite compelling. Long before the advent of high-rise flats and office blocks, church spires and towers used to be the dominant feature of the skyline. They would be pinnacles punctuating the horizon, pointing skywards, reminding people of the eternal dimension of our existence, whilst also reminding them of the exact moment in our earth-bound sphere of time. They would stand, almost like an index finger, calling us to consider this perplexing relationship between time and eternity, which in a sense the Ascension of Our Lord, which we celebrate this weekend, also does. Jesus the Messiah came to share our earthbound life, was subject to the mortality which time-bound existence inescapably implies. But so that He could be present in every moment, transcending the limitations of time, He rose from the dead and ascended into the Heavens, telling us that in doing this, He would be preparing a way for us too, to transcend the measured moments of time and be with Him in His eternal realms. The monastic life has been measured out in bell chimes in unbroken continuity for centuries. Monks and nuns had no watch of their own centuries ago, save perhaps for the Abbot or Mother Superior. They would instruct the Sacristan to toll the bell by way of a call to prayer, to stop work, to enter the refectory for refreshment, to retire for the night, to wake in the morning, sometimes during the night for Vigils too. Each day was divided up into the balanced rhythm of prayer and study, work and rest, not forgetting meal times for which there was the obvious incentive to be punctual! Yet, that carefully measured, balanced life, announced and orchestrated by the Abbey clock, was there not just to remind the sisters and brothers of the exact time to which we are bound, but to contemplate the eternity to which we are called. And this too is where you and I find ourselves and must discover a creative relationship between time and eternity. An enterprise perhaps made easier through our changed relationship with time during this period of pandemic and lockdown. We have been all too conscious of the present moment, the prospect of illness, the fact of mortality, the question of what may await beyond death, for us and for those we love. It is in this strange yet beautiful place between time and eternity that you and I have been called to pray: to bring the minutiae of the present moment into the perspective of eternity, - there for worries to be bathed in the warmth of God’s love; - there for people agonising over current happenings to be offered the healing peace of Christ; - there for exhausted carers, exasperated politicians, those searching, wounded, grieving, to find the reassurance they need in order to continue;
- there for all of us who turn to Christ to find in His empowering embrace, the creative energy to live, as though from a different place, a wellspring, from within; - there to help people make the right decisions which are in the best long-term interests of those who entrust them with power and positions of leadership.
This extraordinary, mysterious, compelling, important, intersection between the realities of time and eternity, is where you and I are called to be as intercessors for the world and believers in the One who is beyond the restrictions of time.
On Easter Days when you have seen priests light the Paschal Candle, you may recall them tracing the images of Alpha and Omega on the wax and on the specific year of that candle’s life. "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to you O Lord and all ages...." Again, it is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the connection between time and eternity and a reminder to see our lives in the context of both. The whole liturgy of the Eucharist is phrased around this sacred intersection between time and eternity: the service starts at an agreed time so all know when to arrive at church, yet the focal moment of Communion is heralded by Isaiah’s vision of the eternal presence of the Lord. As we embark upon the Eucharistic Prayer, we leave the concerns, the preoccupations, the responsibilities of chronological time at the feet of the Eternal Christ and say or sing these words:
"Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory Hosannah in the highest."
It takes us right into Isaiah’s vision in the temple (Isaiah Chapter 6 verse 1-8) and we are invited to echo the very words which the angels there sing in praise and adoration, in the presence of their creator. It is a moment when time stands still, is set aside, becomes something different. Time has no dominion or claim on the realities in that place, it is far beyond the reach of time, for we are in the presence of the One who is eternal. In His presence, through His reality, we not only find rest, we also find renewal. This is where we feed from the spiritual energy called grace, that, like Isaiah, we too may be sent back into the realities of this world, fortified with the realities of the other, eternal place. Ready in His strength, to make a transforming difference in this world, the work for which you and I were created.
That is above all else what I crave in the coming days as we come together once again to worship: to experience with and through each other those moments of awe and wonder, where words become unnecessary, obsolete, eclipsed as they are by the silence of eternity. There to be ministered to. There to be empowered and emboldened. There to be filled anew with the truth which sets us free. There to be reminded of the vision and values which motivated the Christ. There to recommit ourselves to following His example and being faithful to His teaching. There to celebrate Him and make Him known in the challenges and opportunities of our lives.
As we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord, leaving the restrictions of this world to enter once more into the realities of Heaven; taking the needs of this world into His Father’s presence in His prayers for us in Heaven, let all of us be renewed in our sense that in Christ, time and eternity meet and may all of us lift up our hearts, open our minds, leave our preoccupations aside and avail ourselves of such moments of meeting with the One who loves us and whose love is always creative and positive, healing and renewing.
May the Blessings of Our Ascended Lord reach out to you this weekend.
With all good wishes.
THE FINAL PASTORAL LETTER: As you may have heard me announce last Sunday in my talk, which you can view again if you would like by clicking here: https://youtu.be/JGzgiwq2E8A , I had no idea when we began these Pastoral Letters in March of last year, that I would still be writing them 14 months later! Thank you again to those of you who have had the courtesy to continue reading them and for sending me messages which have been prompted by them. It is very much appreciated. When they started, it was because no other means were open to me to keep in touch with you all, it was even before we started Zooming. Thankfully, this strange period in our life together seems to be drawing to an end and we anticipate being back in church by July 4th for services as normal. This would seem a sensible time to also conclude this sequence of letters and I would like you to have the last word, not I! You will recall that last year I asked for your gratitudes, prompted by your experiences in lockdown. From them I compiled three Anthems of Gratitude. This year what I would like you to do is to write to me by Sunday 30th May with the following: 1) Something you have enjoyed or drawn strength and inspiration from since March 2020. 2) Something you may have regretted doing or not doing over this past year. 3) Something you have been experiencing during lockdown, which you hope you can continue in the future. From these I will then try to create a "Final Word" Pastoral Letter, which will be sent out on 2nd July. I look forward to hearing from you. Blessings and best wishes. Jeff
ZOOM AND MORE
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm, by booking on: firstname.lastname@example.org We shall also be opening the church for Private Prayer 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings this Sunday are: Acts Chapter 1 verses 15-17 & 21-26 and John Chapter 17 verses 6-19. The Collect: O God, the King of Glory, You have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ With great triumph to your kingdom in Heaven: We beseech you, leave us not comfortless, But send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, And to exalt us to that place where our Saviour In gone before and who lives and reigns With you and the Holy Spirit. One God, now and for ever. AMEN.