The Last Sunday after Trinity - Evensong
The Rev's Michael Rawson, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor
Next month I’m celebrating one of those significant birthdays with a 0 at the end. To be honest I can’t quite get my head around how it has crept up so fast. I always thought that when I reached this particular age I would feel mature and wise and have all the answers to life’s questions. But that patently isn’t the case. I realise that it is only a number and of course there is the advantage of receiving my Oyster 60+ card!
This afternoon’s first lesson – a rather sober account of using our time on earth wisely - comes from the Book of Ecclesiastes, one of the Hebrew books of wisdom. It is a little like Marmite in that readers either love it or hate it and it almost didn’t make it into the Canon of the Old Testament. It has plenty of scepticism and disillusionment in it, rejecting any theology that does not come from experience. The writer believes that as human beings we should enjoy what is at hand and not long for what is unattainable.
In the portion we have just heard we are enjoined to perseverance, making the most of each day. ‘In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle.’ These are wise words but almost immediately the scepticism creeps back in. ‘Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.’ And again, ‘Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near.’ This is hardly bedtime reading to soothe the soul and give us peace. The author exhorts humanity to live each day as though it is our last, ‘Follow the inclination of your heart and desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement.’ This suggests that we need to get on with life and live it to the full but also keep an eye on the future when God will call us to account for our words and our deeds.
It is fascinating listening to these rather cryptic verses from the Old Testament under the spinning world of Gaia. For the author of this wisdom contrasts the wisdom of God with our experience and understanding as human beings. Inspite of all our skills and encounters in the world we need to know our place in creation; that God is the creator and we are the creature. ‘Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the works of God, who makes everything.’ Human beings are called to worship the Creator with humility and awe and this installation perhaps helps us with this as we seek to know and understand our own place in creation. We are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth for our span of years and eventually ‘the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.’ The author of Ecclesiastes had no belief in an afterlife. The end of life was indeed a full stop. Not so for us who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus who makes all things new through the new life of Easter. Thanks be to God!