Monday, December 4, 2023

Marking Time with the Church Year


Mark 13:24-37

Advent 1 / Year B

One of the lead characters in Elizabeth Goudge’s novel The Dean’s Watch is a gentleman by the name of Isaac Peabody.  He is the town horologist – a clock and watchmaker who is one part tradesman, one part craftsman, and one part artisan.  Set in 19th Century England, the novel gives the reader insight into an era when keeping time is cutting-edge technology.  Peabody makes weekly rounds to wind clocks and is constantly working repairs in his shop.  And the pieces he makes are a thing of beauty… as unique in their design and appearance as the individual they are intended to serve.  Every timepiece Peabody crafts is built to last.  With proper care he anticipates his clocks and watches will tell time accurately for generations to come.

From the beginning of time all living creatures have sought ways to mark time.  Do the geese migrating to the Eastern Shore or the salmon swimming the streams of the northwest know time, or do they merely respond to a deep, instinctual rhythm beating with the motion of the seasons?  Perhaps they do not choose how to mark time so much as they obey patterns the origins of which lies in God’s blueprint for life.

From the construction of Stonehenge at the dawn of civilization to today’s incredibly precise atomic clock human beings have conceived of ways to mark time.  This pursuit is more than a passing fancy.  Do you remember the Tom Hanks’ movie Castaway?  Do you remember how he traced the subtle movement of a ray of sunlight on the wall of a cave to mark the years he spent stranded on a deserted island?  The scene rings true because at an intuitive level we know the human need to manage existence by quantifying it into discernable rhythms of time.

We have a variety of ways to do this now.  There is the calendar, of course, with its days and months and years.  Linked closely to the calendar are the seasons.  But we also measure time through such diverse means as the workweek, the school year, and the programming schedule of TV and radio programs, to name just a few.  The choices are manifold, and it is ours to make. 

The Christian faith provides us a unique way to mark time.  We call it the church year, and today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a new year.  The focal point of the Christian measure of time is not the sun or a schedule of work, but rather the life of Jesus.  The seasons of the church year correspond with events which unfold during his life. 

In Advent we await his coming.  At Christmas we celebrate his birth.  During the season of Epiphany we remember how his divinity – his inner light – shown out for all to know and see.  On Ash Wednesday we confront our mortality and during the season of Lent we focus on the brokenness of our lives.  All of this leads us to Holy Week where we remember how, on the night before his death, Jesus creates a new community of love nourished by his presence in bread and wine.  On Good Friday we watch as Jesus carries our brokenness to the Cross.  On Easter Sunday we celebrate his resurrection and claim his promise that our own mortality and brokenness have been overcome.  On Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and during the weeks that follow we learn again what it means to be a follower of Christ in the world.

The church invites those of us who are so caught up in the marking of time to orient our pursuit by connecting with God… who exists beyond time… as God has been manifested in time in flesh and bone.  And while the story of Jesus does not change from year to year, we do.  We come to this Good News as new people; people whose experiences over the past year have changed us.  Perhaps we are older or wiser or richer.  Perhaps we are leaner or meaner or battered or bruised or broken.  Whatever has happened to us has opened us to hear God’s word and to receive God’s love in a new way.  Following the church year helps us to remember all of our life is in God; that nothing happens to us happens apart from God. 

During the Sundays of the coming weeks and months we will read primarily from Mark’s account of Jesus’ life.  These readings will invite us to link our story with his… to integrate all we are and all we do with who Jesus is and with how he lived his life.  As our lives continue to unfold Jesus’ words in Mark’s gospel will help us to make sense of what is happening to us and where life is taking us.  Invariably the story of our lives will thicken and we will look for strength and comfort in the midst of tension and struggle.  We will find the words we need in the words of Jesus.  And our stories will twist as unexpected events transform our lives for good or ill.   But through it all we will be encouraged to remain in God.

There are many ways we can mark time and how we mark time affects how we perceive the world around us.  Do you have to follow the church year to be a ‘good’ Christian?  Of course not!  It is not a requirement.  It is an invitation... an invitation to mark time by using the life of Jesus as your reference.