It’s hard to believe that we are already at the beginning of September – what happened to July and August? I saw a cartoon recently showing a person blinking, as he closed his eyes it was March and when he opened his eyes it was September! Time is a strange thing indeed. For me time has always gone quickly, and when I look back, events appear to be a long time ago. One of the favourite adages of course is that time goes quicker as you get older. Perhaps I am not yet old enough to experience that….!
Time of course is essential to us and plays a central part in our lives, indeed it gives structure to our very lives. From our birth day and the time we set our alarm clock to go off in the morning, to the date of our death and the time we go to bed at night. It does sometimes depress me by how much my life is governed by the clock, but I do appreciate the rhythm and pattern of the natural year and its seasons.
I think that it is fair to say that most of us are preoccupied by time, although that experience may have been eased for some during the period of lock down. Time is equally important in the Holy Bible, and we encounter in it a complex awareness of the different types of time, and how it encompasses so much more than the mere succession of events in this life.
Today I want to consider the cyclic repetitions and seasons, which we may call natural time, rooted in the natural creation and which we discover at the very beginning of our story. This is part of God’s original creation creating light and separating it from darkness. The days of creation are framed with evening and morning, a pattern which is extended throughout the Bible with its references to ‘day’ and ‘night’ giving structure and regularity to the whole created order.
The seven day week also reflects God’s work of creation – 6 days for toil and labour, and a seventh day for rest. That seventh day of rest is so important. God didn’t need a rest but he set an example for humanity to follow without guilt. How difficult it is to have a day of rest in the world we have made, and I wonder how many of us can say that we have a day of pure rest?
An extension of the weekly cycle is the references to ‘month’ or to the new moon. A four weekly cycle which takes on a particular significance in the Law of Moses and the rituals we find in it. This sheds a particular aura of the sacred to what at first sight appears a convenient measure of time, and bestows a particular significance and beauty to the moon which governs the night.
Broadening our view of time we come to the annual cycle, which is closely associated with the agrarian round of sowing or planting and growing and harvesting. The annual religious festivals we read of are linked to this vegetative cycle. At this time of year even we would be starting to think about harvest festivals as we would come together to give thanks to God not only for the blessings we receive in a season, but for all of the fruits of the earth and of man’s endeavours we enjoy throughout the year.
The final unit of cyclic time we find in the Bible is the cycle of life, that which none of us can deviate from; that which begins at our birth and ends with our death – according to the Psalmist seventy years or eighty for those who are strong! Alas life is not as simple as that, and never has been. Perhaps for this reason the cycle of human life is accentuated by a strong awareness of the generations succeeding one another. We are all of us part of a much larger, ongoing story, albeit that our individual lives are valuable, important and irreplaceable parts of the whole.
With this view we can see time measured in terms of recurrence and repetition, little that happens is unique, a true one off. It is also one of the main Biblical images for human and divine order. The godly life is in part ordered by the natural units of time, enriched with sacred significance partly linked to religious practices and rituals – the covenant relationship with God who prescribes appointed times and seasons for spiritual duties.
The cycles of human and natural life of themselves are meaningless and void of all true worth, but they can also be viewed from both a human and divine perspective, and it is God alone who can give true meaning and value. That is the mystery and majesty which we are invited to explore as we bide out time on this mortal coil.
This truth is so beautifully expressed in the poem we find in the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time”
Our time, our earthly cycle is capable of taking on a transcendent, and even divine, perspective and significance. We know that our time is short, and we are charged to make the most of our time, for our own benefit, for that our fellow bretheren and our wider human family, as well as creation as a whole. We have inherited these cycles which can ensnare us and weigh us down, but we can equally transform them to liberate us, to enable us to achieve our full potential as we recognise and fulfil the glorious labours prepared for us, and to pass by the labours prepared for others.
I offer this prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, who makes us children of time, to the end that when time is over we may attain to thy blessed eternity: mercifully receive our prayers, and hold up our goings in thy way; that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, and so live all our appointed days on earth as finally to attain thy everlasting glory.
So mote it be.