A couple of weeks ago, around the time that the clocks went back, I was thinking that this really isn’t my favourite time of year. It’s getting darker; it’s getting colder; most of the trees have lost their leaves; and the amount of rain we’ve had some days recently has only added to this feeling.
It's also a time of year when we think about some things to do with death. At All Souls we remember our departed loved ones. About a week later, we remember those who have lost their lives in war. Roll on Christmas, we might say; but there are many people who struggle with that, too.
But I was forgetting something… and I was reminded of it on All Saints’ Day – 1st November, when I used the Morning Prayer liturgy for the new season that begins on that day. Its opening prayer includes these words:
In the darkness of the age that is passing away,
may the glory of your kingdom
which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
This is one of my very favourite pieces of Church of England liturgy. Over the past few years it has really gripped me, and it is part of the reason that I love certain things about November.
From All Saints Day until the first Sunday of Advent many churches celebrate the ‘kingdom season’. We think about things to do with the rule of God and his eternal kingdom – far beyond the kingdoms and rulers of this world. But the kingdom is also with us now, even if it’s not complete. In the world today, there are two kingdoms going on alongside each other.
So often our lives are dominated by the kingdom of this world – fear, uncertainty, hatred, selfishness, poverty, warfare… The world is a dark place – a very dark place. But into that darkness God shines his light, described in the prayer as ‘the glory of your kingdom’. God’s people from former generations are already enjoying it in all its fullness. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy it or sense its presence with us. It doesn’t mean that it can’t have a huge effect on our lives and influence the way in which we live. And I particularly warm to the idea that it ‘surrounds our steps as we journey on’. Wherever I go, whatever I do, God’s glory surrounds me. I think of myself walking down one of the backways in Bishopstoke, on my way to visit someone or to do something in school. The soggy, fallen leaves are all around me, but even closer to me – in every single step – is the glory of God.
There’s a different sort of beauty at this time of year. And whilst there are more hours of darkness, there’s also a different type of light. Once many of the trees have lost their leaves, you see it through the branches.
Nature needs this time of year. It may seem as if nothing is happening, but as nature seems to rest, some very important things are happening to prepare the way for spring. And this is true of our faith. We need to journey through a variety of seasons. We need to go through periods when things are harder or God doesn’t seem to be doing anything. But as we do that, things are happening and our faith deepens. Sometimes, just like the trees of late autumn, things need to stripped away and simplified, so that the true light – the light of God’s kingdom – can be seen more clearly.
Ultimately, this age of darkness is ‘passing away’. That’s the hope and encouragement that Jesus Christ gives us. Meanwhile, it can give us the strength to journey on and do things that will bring about more of his kingdom on earth.
With every blessing