Keeping Up, Keeping Time

When I made the transition from vacation mode back to ministry mode in late August, I looked at my calendar for the fall months and immediately wanted to go back on vacation–so many events, so much travel, both inside and outside the diocese. But I know I’m not the only one. So many of us have lives where it feels like we meet ourselves coming and going. We’re constantly worried, at least subliminally, about whether we’ll be be adequately prepared for events that we know are coming our way, and even more worried about events that we cannot possibly predict, and which there is no way we can intelligently prepare for. It feels like we can never keep up. Time, it seems, is not on our side.

But, yet, it is. Yes, time is the medium through which we experience the demands placed on us by life in this world. It is also, however, the means through which we experience the saving grace of God. I’m reminded of this whenever I hear the familiar Christmas narrative from Luke’s gospel. God came to us at a particular time–“when Quirinius was governor of Syria”–and not at some other time. The word “when” refers to time. In our liturgy (Eucharistic Prayer A) we speak of God, “in [his] mercy, sen[ding] [his] only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us” to “the God and Father of all.” And what was the temporal occasion for God taking this action? “…when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death.” God comes to us in the medium of time because our need for him happens in the medium of time.

Time, therefore, is sacred. I will go so far as to say that time is sacramental.

In the complex process that led to my election and consecration as your bishop two years ago, I was particularly grateful that its various milestones–due date for nominations, due date for responses from nominees, the nominating synod, and the electing synod–were all tied, not primarily to calendar dates, but to sacred time–Ash Wednesday, Ascension Day, Transfiguration, and the feast day of Edward B. Pusey. When I write a letter, if the date is of any significance at all on the liturgical calendar, I put that occasion on the letter, along with the calendar date. This may seem like an arcane and quaint custom, and our salvation will certainly neither rise nor fall on whether we keep it! But it is, I believe, one more tool that we can put at God’s disposal for the shaping of our lives as disciples of Jesus.

So, what lies just ahead of us, time-wise?

Most of our Eucharistic Communities will be celebrating the feast of All Saints on the first Sunday in November. (The actual day is November 1, but Prayer Book rubrics allow it to be also observed on the Sunday following.) While it is true that all Christians are, in a very real sense, “saints” because we have been set apart and “marked as Christ’s own” in baptism, what we’re celebrating on All Saints is a smaller group within the Body of Christ whose witness to the gospel–either in their living or their dying, or both–was particularly heroic, and worthy of honor and, often, emulation. God has “knit us together” with them, we pray on that day, in “one communion and fellowship.” The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of them as a sort of celestial cheering section, urging us on by their example and supporting us in prayer, as “we feebly struggle” and “they in glory shine” (Hymn 287). How much richer our spiritual lives are when they are “populated” with the heroes and heroines of the family of God.

A lesser commemoration–related to All Saints but distinct from it–is All Souls (“All Faithful Departed,” in the language of the Prayer Bood, November 2). This day, and not the Principal Feast of All Saints, is when we appropriately remember and pray for those whom we have loved and known but see no more. It is our privilege to lift up our own departed loved ones in prayer, that they will cooperate unreservedly with the grace of the Holy Spirit to bring to completion the work that was begun in them on the day of their baptism, until they are fully transformed into the likeness of Christ. We can do nothing better for them than to make them the focus of our intercessory intention in the Mass as we ourselves are nourished at the banquet table of God.

A few short weeks after All Saints/All Souls, the season of Advent begins. This is a hard one, because at no other time does sacred time swim upstream so directly against cultural time. The world around us is in full-on party mode for “the holidays” while the church is trying to be restrained and contemplative–waiting, preparing, and hoping of the coming of Christ, both in glory at the end of time to judge the world, and in history to be our savior. I love the odd shape of Advent–beginning with the end, with Second Coming themes on the first Sunday, spending the next two Sundays in stereo sermons from Isaiah and John the Baptist, and finishing up with an Annunciation story (either to Mary or to Joseph, depending on the year) on the fourth Sunday.

This tees the ball up securely for Christmas, which arrives officially with the Eucharist on the eve of the feast. It’s been said that, if each of the streams of Christianity were assigned one festival or season as their own, Anglicans would get Christmas. We certainly have a lovely musical and liturgical tradition to feed our minds and hearts during this time of year. But it’s theological as well; Anglicanism has always had a robust understanding of the incarnation–God taking human flesh and human nature in the person of Jesus–and its myriad implications for life in this world. And it’s a twelve-day season, not just an evening and the next day. So have you ever thought of having your Christmas party actually during Christmas season? Your neighbors might think you’re a little strange, but you could get some great deals on decorations!

These are just some of the highlights. I could have talked about St Andrew, St Nicholas, the feast of the Conception of Our Lady, St Thomas, the Great O Antiphons, Holy Name, Epiphany, and more. But my hope is that all the faithful within the Diocese of Springfield will look at time not just as a succession of seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years, but as a means of grace, a medium through which God comes and does business with us, as individuals and as communities. What blessings await us when we open our eyes to see time in this way.

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