And the World Goes On

Three days of silence at the beginning of Advent and one returns to find the world going on pretty much as usual. People are still murdering one another, hurling insults, performing random acts of kindness and generosity, shivering, smiling and making the best of things. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has. We are closer now to the coming of the Kingdom, both individually and as a community, than we were three days ago. We don’t often advert to the fact that, while time is linear, the point at which it intersects with eternity lies outside time. In this it reflects the nature of Advent itself, which is simultaneously a waiting for something yet to come and a celebration of that which already is.

This morning I was struck by the reference to ‘the hand of the Lord’ in Isaiah 25. It is a phrase we hear again and again in scripture, usually as an allusion to God’s power and might. We are saved by his hand; his hand assures the victory; he does things by his own hand and no other — and if not his hand, then his arm. The arm of the Lord has gotten the victory. The trouble is, all this smashing and grabbing that the hand of the Lord appears to be doing is rather at odds with the hand of the Lord we see at work in the gospels. Jesus is always stretching out his hand to sinners and touching them. There is a gentleness there that corresponds to the beauty of the imagery of our being graven on the palms of his hand (Isaiah 49) and of the Advent season itself. We await a Saviour who has already come. We know what he is like. We know his gentleness and his strength — we have nothing to fear at his hands, nothing at all.

Advent reminds us that the coming of God may be attended with trumpet blasts and manifestations of power, but it may also be attended by something as fragile as a baby’s breathing. The important thing to remember is that he always comes as Saviour. Our business as the world goes on is to stay alert and await God’s coming, as and when he wills.

(In case you didn’t realise, the last three blog posts were written before our Silence Days and scheduled to appear at daily intervals; likewise the daily prayer tweet. The wonders of technology!)


Time and Eternity: the Easter Octave and the Eighth Day

The Easter Octave is a good time to think about time and eternity. In everyday conversation we use the words loosely, casually even, without regard to the more precise meanings given them by theologians and philosophers.

On Sunday we celebrated in a more intense form than usual the Resurrection of Christ. That is something we do every Sunday, but on Easter Day and throughout these days of the octave we go on celebrating that event as something that occurs uniquely today. Our ‘day’ therefore stretches over eight days, allowing us to assimilate different aspects of it. The Resurrection gospels read this week add to our understanding. They are like the many facets of a polished jewel, each one revealing different depths of colour and meaning.

But what of the eighth day? Is that the same as the octave day? The short answer is ‘no’. In Christian tradition, the eighth day is a sign of the new creation ushered in by the Resurrection. Sunday, as well as being the first day of the week, is also spiritually the eighth day. The early Christian writers made great play with this, seeing the eighth day as a symbol of perfection and fulfilment, the point where time intersected with eternity. Justin Martyr (c.154) described it thus: ‘the first day after the Sabbath [Saturday], remaining the first of all days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.’

So where does that leave us during this Easter octave? We have, in effect, eight days of eighth days. We are living eternity now. And if that were not enough, the Easter season culminates in Pentecost, the great feast of the Church, ‘when the promise is fulfilled; all is made new.’ No wonder that we sing ‘alleluia’ over and over again.