Vicar's Blog ~ February 2019
As well as telling us how many days to next Sunday there are, or what date to write at the top of the page, our calendars remind us of which secular, religious or family festival is approaching. As we near someone’s birthday or wedding anniversary, we think of them, perhaps pray for them, at the very least we remember them, and they become real for us, if only for a day or two. Some calendar dates are written in for us, printed nicely on the calendar itself, while we write in others ourselves as appointments that we and others might need to remember to keep. We have diaries as well as calendars, on paper or electronic, into which we enter the schedule of our upcoming life. Some people have very full diaries, while others have no need of a calendar because if you are lonely, every day seems the same and marking the passing days is an agony too far. Are you someone who sighs with relief to see a day in the calendar that is ‘empty’, or do you long for more events in your diary?
Think of old Simeon and Anna: There wasn’t much in their diaries. If they had diaries, they would have said – ‘Go to Temple to pray’ each day. And on another day – ‘die’ - quite soon, most likely. Perhaps like Archbishop Cranmer in that wonderful morning prayer collect, Simeon would have been thankful, as many of us are, that the Lord ‘has brought us safely to the beginning of this day’. But on each day Simeon could well have written ‘meet the Messiah – tbc’. Or if he’d had an iPhone, he could have put it in ‘repeating appointments’, end date, ‘not known’. Simeon had an appointment with the Messiah, he just didn’t know when. Like we all do, in his wake.
Calendars speak to us of human interaction, appointments with others, invitations to accept, dates to remember that relate to friends and family. Calendars keep us busy as well as recording how busy we are. A full calendar indicates a network of relationships, with others and with God. For another kind of calendar is the liturgical calendar. Christian communities have observed holy days (holidays) for centuries and the ‘calendar’ is the list or chart of when they fall and whose feast day they instruct us to commemorate. Liturgical calendars are still very much in use today, and contain two kinds of holy day: those which always fall on the same date, such as Christmas and All Saints Day, and those driven by the date of Easter such as Good Friday and Pentecost. The festival of Candlemas, or the ‘Presentation of Christ in the Temple’, is located precisely at 40 days after Christmas. Because, since at least the year 354 AD Christmas has been celebrated on December 25th, then 40 days later has to be February 2nd. But it is 40 days after Christmas because Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, and after 40 days, Mary and Joseph, following Jewish liturgical calendrical tradition would have gone to the Temple at Jerusalem to redeem their child – to ‘buy him back’ from the Lord, as it were. So, we can have no doubt as to when this happened, once we have agreed by convention when his birth was. The exact date of Jesus’ birth is, of course, not known, not even the year, so all these dates are literally-speaking, only relatively accurate. But there’s the joy of calendars and the liturgical year – it all makes everything hang together in a coherent way.
Fixed or moveable feasts - all the dates in the church calendar remind us of the story of our faith; the accompanying ‘lectionary’ tells us what scripture to read and say together, and instructs and invites us to come together to mark the day. Communities that live and pray together have extensive liturgical calendars to follow, because they meet together. At the same time the calendar is an invitation to meet together to pray and share fellowship. So calendars are actually all about relationship, and our relationships are punctuated by dates, and the calendar is what carries our relationships onward from day to day, from year to year. And of course, we mark important dates in our relationships – wedding anniversaries, birthdays – we are not just marking time, but celebrating past, and future, in a present day. And, if it is a birthday, hopefully it is a present day!
Yet no matter how busy we are, or how full are our calendars, time marches on, and everything we do or plan to do, or have done, needs to be placed in perspective against the eternal, divine timeline of God. Astrophysicists tell us that before the Big Bang there literally was no time, and that there may yet be a context in which there is no more time left. This is not so different from the idea that the ‘end of the world’, however nigh it is, will transform time and space into something else, something incomprehensible to us here and now. Our calendars map out our little zone of time, keeping us busy, but are almost meaningless in the great scheme of things. This is not something to be depressed about though, but is rather something to be humbled by. When we see our calendar on the wall, headed by the year and month, and perhaps with a nice picture too, we see our lives in detail, but we can also be reminded that we stand before our calendars in awe of God, under whose creative loving gaze, everything ‘which is, already has been’; and that that which is yet to happen, is already happening to God; and perhaps even more profoundly, what we consider to have happened in the past, is still real to God, who seeks out the past, present and future simultaneously.