May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today’s lectionary readings took me a little by surprise! It feels only yesterday that I was preaching from chapter one of John’s Gospel on Christmas Day. This past week the two Christmas trees at St Stephen’s finally came down, along with the rather sad looking Christmas Ponsettias on each window sill. The crib set was carefully packed away, and at 8am on Friday morning we celebrated the feast of Candlemas – the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. At the beginning of that service I read those poignant words: “Today we are looking back to the day of Christ’s birth and forward to the coming days of his passion”. The message was clear - these are transitional times. How then do we inwardly digest the poetic prose of John’s gospel at this particular time on the Second Sunday before the start of Lent?
John Swinton, a practical theologian working up in Aberdeen, has written a wonderful book that I’ve been enjoying this week entitled Being Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness and Gentle Discipleship.
In a culture and city where many of us are governed by the tyranny of the clock –where busyness and speed and full diaries are unquestionably the norm – John Swinton challenges us to question whether time should be something we allow to control us and to dictate the quality of our encounters and relationships with people. Is not time, he argues, a gift from God? Is not the primary goal of human beings to glorify God and to enjoy him forever?1 In London we have become a people who think they have ‘to fit God in’ rather than ‘fit in with what God is doing’.
Our readings from Proverbs, Colossians and John’s Gospel make continual reference to time. “In the beginning was the Word”. “All things came into being through him” “the Lord gave them their food in due season”. “In him all things hold together”. Here we are being challenged to live, not out of our time, but out of God’s time.
Augustine argued that time is a creature – a part of creation – and if this is the case then “The only purpose of time should be to facilitate and sustain our loving relationships”2. How different this is, from the competitive efficiency model of time where people are constantly anxious not to miss their next appointment, as a people governed by the second and third hand of the clock; a world in which any hint of disability or chronic fatigue is a sign of weakness, idleness and missed possibility.
This past Thursday at St Stephen’s eight women from Queen Mary’s hostel in our parish came to our church to do a morning of gardening. Serving copious amounts of sugared tea and Sainsbury’s cake, we worked together and chatted, filling 13 bin bags of old leaves and weeds, and delighting at first signs of Spring – the sight of new crocuses, amidst the shady winter cyclamens. Lu, the leader of this therapeutic gardening group, from Thrive in Battersea Park, told me this was a form of “Attention Restoration Therapy”. “Attention Restoration Therapy” for people with mental unwellness – in which the power of creation and the outside environment is thought fruitful to slow people down, to still their chaotic minds and to lessen their need for obsessive behaviours.
Our readings today are full of poetic references to the interconnectedness of God’s creation – a creation carefully established so that nothing “transgresses the Lord’s command”. Humans are a part of this. Each part of creation carefully assigned a role, a place, a time to grow, a time to rest; Wisdom his master worker: daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.
How might we nurture a way of living that is in tune with the rest of creation, firmly rooted in the rhythm of God’s time?
In my own lifestyle as a priest here in Westminster I find that meditation and silence enables this syncing to occur. Every Wednesday morning a local priest
and I cycle to St James Park at 7am, slinging our prayer stools over our shoulders. For coming up to a year now, we sit in the park in front of the same tree – observing the colours of Spring, Summer, and Autumn, and now the bareness of winter. Sustained by silence indoors on other mornings of the week, this has been one of the most fruitful experiences in my curacy precisely because when I sit in front of that tree on Wednesday mornings– my relationship to time changes- the muddle of my mind has time to settle, I tease out what needs to be worried about in that moment and what can be gently dropped for another day. Somehow in the silence I encounter something of God’s time that is eternity. In silence we get swept up in to a different rhythm and set of priorities; listening more deeply to the cries of those overseen wounds in ourselves or others, or the cries of those not fast enough to keep up. To live as children of God, thus, requires authenticity, not speed. It requires restoration of attention to God’s clock, rather than being mastery of the universe.
At Candlemas we looked back to the day of Christ’s birth and forward to the coming days of his passion. These are, indeed, God’s transitional times. So on this Second Sunday before the start of Lent how do we prepare for Lent and Christ’s passion?
One way is to participate in our exciting joint Lent programme on Wednesday nights - an opportunity to anchor ourselves in God’s time and the ways God might be influencing – Faith in public service, Faith in business, Faith in politics and faith in the Church.
Second, as we turn now to our Eucharist which is the source and summit of our faith, may we allow ourselves to get swept up into God’s time. God’s time is a mystery. Let us live into that mystery generously, knowing that each moment is given to us by God for timefull loving.
The branches of our Christmas Trees at St Stephen’s have now been sawn off. Two bare tree trunks stand waiting in this ‘ordinary time’ to soon be nailed together to form our Easter Cross. Through the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, and through the passion and resurrection of Christ our entire existence is caught up in God’s eternity. “For” as Colossians reminds us “in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross”. Amen.