I love Chester. With its ancient city walls and medieval rows, it’s a beautiful place to visit. What’s more, it was not far for us to go when we lived in Altrincham on the southern edges of Manchester. Chester was half-way between Altrincham and Wrexham, the town (now city) of Wrexham, just over the Welsh border where Caroline had grown up and where her parents lived for many years.
We often visited Chester Cathedral which dates back to 1093 when it was part of a Benedictine monastery. On our visits we would normally go and look at the old clock in the cathedral, on which was the inscription: “When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept When as a youth I dreamed and talked, time walked When I became a full grown man, time ran And later as I older grew, time flew Soon I shall find while travelling on, time gone Will Christ have saved my soul by then?”
The older we grow the shorter life seems to become. In this final blog of the year I thought a few reflections on the brevity of life would be appropriate, and to link these reflections to Psalm 90, which in my NRSV is headed ‘God’s eternity and human frailty’…
In Psalm 90.12 the Psalmist says: “So teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart” (NRSV), or more in the simpler words of the GNB: “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise” (GNB). Yes, life is short. The Psalmist in the preceding verses likens our lives to a “dream” (v5), which at the time may seem very real, but by the morning it is all over, forgotten, gone. He says that in the light of eternity “We are like weeds that sprout in the morning, that grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die in the evening” (v5c,6).
This blog is due to be published on Thursday 29 December. On that day the year will almost be gone, with another year about to begin. On a day when we are particularly conscious of the passing of time, all of us – and not just those of us who have already reached the second half of life – we need to take seriously the fact that life is short. None of us will live forever – one day we shall die. None of us knows. We may die quickly – perhaps in a car accident or through a major heart-attack. Alternatively we may die a slow and painful death. But one thing for sure: death is the ultimate statistic; one of out one people die. .
The Psalmist says: “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise” (GNB). In this blog I want to suggest that we take the following four wise actions
- We need to put our affairs into order, which amongst other things involves writing a will. According to a BBC report last year, two out of three of Britons do not have a will. This is not fair to loved ones – think of all the trouble you will create for them if you die intestate. True, the Scriptures say nothing about wills. But the Bible does say that as Christians we have a duty of care to our loved ones. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “If anyone does not take care of his relatives, especially the members of his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than unbeliever” (1 Tim 5.7) What’s more, we don’t have to wait until we are old – I wrote my will when I was 25 – I needed to, because I had a wife and a child and we were off to live in the Congo, where all too often life was uncertain.
- We need to put our relationships in order. For many people Christmas is a great time for deepening family relationships – and yet sadly Christmas is also a time for family rows. So let me ask you a question: are you happy with your current relationships? Are you at peace not just with the immediate family, but also with the wider family? And what about relationships with neighbours or work colleagues, or whoever? Are there fences that need to be repaired? Is there forgiveness to be exercised? Is there a letter to be written, a conversation to be had? Remember, forgiveness is not optional. Jesus said: “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done” (Matt 6.14-15)
- Use the time God gives you to the full. Time is a precious commodity. Yet it is all too easy to fritter time away. So make sure you handle it wisely. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Be careful how you live… making the most of the time” (Eph 5.15,16). If you have children, are you giving them the time they need? If your parents are still alive, are you giving them the time they need? Are you giving your church the time it needs? Are you giving your community the time it needs? How much time are you sunk on a soft chair before a television or perhaps seated at a desk searching the net? How much time are you actively serving God?