Some years ago now I accompanied a group of soon to be high school freshmen to Confirmation Camp at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Years before we had learned the hard way the necessity of reserving their personal cell phone usage for free time once a day. Otherwise they would not be fully engaged in the camp experience. For those of us of another generation it did not occur to us that in taking away their cell phones we also took away their way of telling time, for wearing a wrist watch was a practice entirely unknown to them. Most of the time this didn’t much matter for the group traveled from one experience to another together, relying on the adult leaders in the group to tell and keep time. It was following free time on Tuesday that the implications of all of this became clear. A group of boys had gotten comfortable in one another’s company. Time had gotten away from them when they were swimming or playing pool or just hanging out. We had gathered for song time between free time and supper time when the group came sauntering in a full fifteen minutes late. When questioned about their tardiness, they said they did not know what time it was. When it was pointed out that there were clocks all over campus, they told us that they did not know how to read them. And yes, this was so, for they had been raised in the digital age and the sweeping hands of an analogue clock held no meaning for them whatsoever.
This week’s lessons speak to us of time. And oh, surely part of what we hear today is that we tell or measure time in different ways, of course. We spend time, fill time, waste time and yes, all of us do so in ways which reflect our values and priorities, whether we know it or not. And yes, there are times — some more than others — when we are deeply aware of the sometimes cruel limits of time. Sometimes we embrace this truth with grace. Indeed, over these last several weeks I have sat down with dear ones who are measuring time and recognizing that time as they have known it is quickly running out. In those hours we have sat and talked about what comes next. We have discussed hoped-for details of upcoming memorial services and funerals where family and friends will look back with gratitude on the time that has been shared and ahead with hope as they remember that God holds all of time.
It is into our very human experience of “time” that the striking words of Jesus break in today. Whatever else may be true it is often almost as though God is measuring time in analogue time and you and I only understand digital time for while the actual time may be the same, Jesus himself says that when “the time” actually comes it will be unexpected. For it is so that unlike the families I sat with in these last days, we are not always given a sure sign of the limits of this time now. Indeed, it is awfully easy to get so caught up in our daily routines and the ordinary demands on our time that we forget that time itself is shorter than we think and we may discover that tomorrow as we have known it isn’t promised.
And yet, for all of this the truth is that often I do have a hard time hearing Jesus’ words for as now as good news. Surely it is both a sign of my own profound privilege and my own seriously limited imagination that the prospect of time being up sounds more like threat than promise. Indeed, if life has been at all good the certainty of one day being taken away from what and who I have known and loved in this life is not at all appealing. And yet, when I allow myself to pause within it, I recognize that the passage of time has already taken its toll on me as well:
- I see it in the mirror every morning and I feel it in the creak of my left knee when I take my daily walk.
- I count it in the ever growing number of times I have let go of and grieved the passing of dear ones.
- I sense it in what shows up some days as wisdom and on other days as cynicism as I recognize that the world is not what I once thought it was.
Time, to use another cliche, does not stand still. Time passes and with its passing, it exacts a price. Oh yes, it came to me a while back that my time as I have known it is limited. I am starting to measure the years before me of working as I have as being far fewer than what I have already spent in this familiar way. There is a certain urgency now that I did not know so many years ago to do what I need to do now. How much more this would be so if a health or employment or other sort of crisis were to be mine? As it surely will be one day. Indeed, I can’t help but wonder how that ‘unexpected hour’ would inform and shape all my hours to come. Perhaps it is that deep awareness that Jesus wishes to bless his listeners with today.
More than that, perhaps the gift Jesus offers now is the certainty that while this time — good, bad, or otherwise — will not always be, but also that this time is not all there is. And while we cannot tell time as God does, we are reminded now that we are called to live in this time as God calls us to, seeking in all ways on all days to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” as Paul would have it in his letter to the Romans today. Indeed, whatever else may be so, it is always time for this. Surely seeking to do this is a recognition and affirmation that while God tells time differently than you and I, it is still all God’s time. May this certainty enable us to live our time — however short or long it is in this time — with courage and with hope. And with grace. Indeed, may this be so for all of us.
- How do you experience the passage of time? What difference does it make to you that God ‘tells time’ in a way we simply cannot? How is this promise and hope for you?
- What does it mean to you and/or to your community to ‘lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light?’ How does the light of that armor empower you?
- Certainly the promise in our lessons today is that whatever else may be so, God holds all of time. What does that mean for you in terms of how you fill your time?