December 27 2020

Last Sunday in the Year 2020

When you have finished some impressive or moving book or film, if you have time you may literally sit back for a few moments and give yourself over to reflection on the ideas that have emerged from the events in the story, or of the general impression it has left upon you. Probably the most powerful drama I watched during 2020 was “Chernobyl”, the dramatization of the events which led up to, and the aftermath of, the explosion at the nuclear plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. It was harrowing and compelling, brilliantly acted, often difficult to watch, and a totally convincing and (I believe) accurate portrayal of the persons and practices which led to the disaster.

Apart from the powerful impact this film had on me this year, why especially remember it at the year’s end? The answer to that (for me) is the corona virus pandemic. The meltdown of the nuclear core at Chernobyl, if unchecked, would have burned through the earth’s crust and caused an ecological disaster on a global scale.

Covid 19 has brought about a societal and economic meltdown in our lives on a similar scale.

Life has often been likened to a story, sometimes full of purpose, power and meaning, and sometimes, as Macbeth expressed it, “a tale, told by an idiot.” 2020 has at times seemed just like that. And here we are, at the end of one story which was 2020, and at the beginning of another which will be 2021.

There is a great art in letting the past be past and over. Whatever the year has held for you, (and I have no doubt there have been times of great joy and gladness) we have gone through with it, and it is nearly over.

“Ring out wild bells, and let him die…”

There is great wisdom in not carrying over into the New Year a number of last year’s anxieties, fears and troubles, if we are able.

There has been much to leave behind. Though there are doubtless consolations in the very fact of having finished with another year, there is also bound to be regret in our hearts when we part with many of our days, even ones with some sadness in them. As it says in Psalm 90, “We bring our years to an end as a tale that is told.”

Here, close to the New Year’s beginning, we are at a point of perspective from which we may survey our past and look forward to the future. It is, if you like, a point of vantage, a high place, from which we may take in the landscape of our existence.

When I lived in Wales it was in a river valley, much as I am situated now not far from the River Soar. Unlike the Leicestershire landscape, however, the river valley around Lampeter was surrounded by hills. It was wonderfully refreshing to be able to leave our studies behind, and go for a walk into the hills from where we could look down over the little market town. If you raised your hand in front of your eyes, it could eclipse all the houses, shops, chapels, and the college. It put everything into perspective.

Of itself, just being high up provides many things. It confers authority. The magistrate, the mayor, the president, are usually seated in formal assembly on some sort of dais or rostrum indicating their orderly control of proceedings, and enabling all present to better hear and see them. Ministers occupy pulpits.

Height provides leverage in most physical activity. The only field sport I showed any promise at during school was pole-vaulting. Long-handled picks, spades and axes are generally more efficient.

A sailor high up in the crow’s nest saw more than those on deck, now radar is up there instead.

Height conveys grandeur and an awesome perspective. Looking up at the mountains or the stars, towers or steeples, makes us feel small and insignificant by comparison.

And not only visibility, but also illumination. On a clear day, the sun is brightest at noon and highest in the sky. Lighthouse lights are to be found at the top of interminable staircases.

As we contemplate them from our vantage point, the stresses and strains of Covid, 2020 and of Christmas itself, will appear to eclipse some of our better nature and the sense of fellowship we feel impelled to express at the festive season. I think we all feel more isolated and inhibited than we did at this time last year.

We exchanged presents and gifts with one another at Christmastime, and I hope we are all keeping up with our “thank you” letters in return! But it is possible that we have not realised something that we have all received at this season of goodwill, despite the restrictions upon us. It is a gift to carry with us into the New Year.

It is our undiminished ability to occupy spiritual height, to understand it, to appreciate it, and to let it be felt by those around us.

Light looked own and beheld darkness. Thither will I go, said light.
Peace looked down and beheld war. Thither will I go, said peace.
Love looked down and beheld hatred. Thither will I go, said love.
So came light, and shone.
So came peace, and gave rest.
So came love, and brought life…       (by Laurence Housman)

 May the New Year be one of light, peace and love for us all.   Amen.

Sunday Service homilies from the Minister during coronavirus period