Over the last year, between Epiphany 2015 and 2016,1 have taken the same photograph almost every day. Using the cross-hairs on the camera I made sure that the view was exactly the same. I did miss a few days when I was not at home.
You might ask, and I have been asked “Why are you taking the same picture every day?” to which my response is I wanted to notice that which changed and that which stayed the same. I made a small film of all the pictures at the end of the year. What you notice is, although the view is the same, things are changing all the time: bare branches then blossom then leaves, bright greens; rich greens, faded greens; yellows and browns; children’s toys, diggers in the fields beyond, then no diggers. In that same picture throughout the year we see a picture of impermanence.
Impermanence is the state of all things, even the pebble I am holding in my hand is the relic of a much larger piece of rock, and it too will one day just be sand.
Ash Wednesday this year is 10 February. The traditional words are uttered, with the imposition of ashes:“Remember O mortal, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” It is a sobering thought, this impermanence. Even the universe is predicted to end in a cold silence (but don’t worry about it, it’ll be a long time away). It is good to be reminded of our own impermanence.
During the Russian Orthodox funeral service, this prayer is offered at the graveside, “You (God) only are immortal; the creator and maker of all; and we are mortal, formed from the dust of the earth, and unto earth we
shall return. All of us go down to the dust yet weeping at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” The clue is in the first line: You only are immortal.
In the Sci-fi film “Blade runner” before he dies, the character played by Rutger Hauer offers this thought:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears...in...rain.…
Like tears in the rain... What might seem like loss is in fact a beginning of hope. You only are immortal. The tears are lost through their participation in the rain. At the end of Lent we remember again the ultimate depths of God’s participation in our humanity and our mortality and impermanence. God is lost in death. Like tears in the rain of our humanity, God becomes at one with the mortality that we have all known since we were very small.
I should not go on, for this Easter is not yet, but as Christians we do not believe that the story ends there. This year, Good Friday is on 25 March, usually the Feast of the Annunciation when we remember the message of the angel to Mary. The ancients saw this as a perfect life ending on the day on which it began. From conception to crucifixion, God participates in our living and dying; and through the resurrection, the rising from the tomb, we are invited to participate in the One who has lived as one with us. The permanent becomes impermanent so that mortals may know eternity.
Vicar’s thoughts for February 2016