The Mystery of Time (Mark 1, 1-8)

5 January 2023

‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…’. Just the use of the word ‘beginning’ in today’s Gospel reading takes us, by association, to the start of a new year, the festal resonance of which we’re still experiencing, since we crossed the threshold a mere few days ago.

The Christian concept of time
In olden days, people were at a loss in the face of the dark enigma which is time. They tried to explain it with philosophy and science. As life passes and time rolls on, we’re horrified when we realize the vanity of yesterday, the transitory nature of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow. This is because the past is lost, the present fades, because every one of its moments flees and becomes the past, while the future is unknown. This notion of time, inconceivable for the human understanding, makes Basil the Great wonder whether ‘time is perhaps a mirror of eternity’.

And although the fleeting passage of time poisons our life with anxiety, the hopeful light of the Christian revelation comes and calms us. It tells us that God has been made manifest within time and, in the person of Christ, has trodden on the firm ground of history. It answers our questions and addresses our concerns. Christian teaching tells us that time is the work of God and a gift of His to us people, and is of high educational value. Time begins with the creation and progresses, together with humankind and the whole universe, to its end point at the conclusion of the ages, that is their completion in eternity. We might also call this a transformation of all into another quality and dimension of time, life and existence. In the present world and time, all things are born and die. This is time which is fluid and a world which is continuously changing and ultimately decaying.

This is why it’s natural for a desire for something permanent, stable and incorrupt to make itself felt within us. But this is nothing other than the Kingdom of God, for which we were made in the first place. Every moment of ours is unique and irrevocable, with no turning back. This truth makes the time of our life a time of struggle, vigilance and repentance, as Christ preaches in today’s Gospel reading. Repentance, in relation to time, means among other things that we’re called to live our earthly, temporary present without attaching ourselves to it or being absorbed by it, because present time really is ‘evening, and is advancing towards it own setting’.

Our Journey in Time
The time of our life is a wagon on the train of the natural time of history and ‘of the whole world’ which takes us to eternity. It is God Who determines the length of the journey and, when it’s complete, He calls us to a state commensurate with that which we’ve worked and struggled for. Some see their earthly journey as a train journey. When we’re born we board the train. We meet people who we imagine will accompany us throughout the journey- our parents. Unfortunately, the reality’s different. They disembark at some station and leave us alone, without their physical presence but with the remembrance of them. Then other people board and they’ll prove very important for us. They’re people we love- spouses, children and friends.

Others see life as a walk. These are people who have a Christian view of life, an awareness of its impermanence. Others find only sorrows on the journey. They are the ‘afflicted and ill-treated’ of faith and life. Others on the train are willing to assist those who need them. They’re people who serve and sacrifice. Lots of others get on and off and we don’t even know them. These are the countless people we pass by indifferently in our daily life.

My beloved brothers and sisters, our earthly life is a journey full of hopes and disappointments, greetings and farewells, but certainly of no return. The mystery of the journey is that we don’t know when we and our fellow-travelers will disembark for good. Parting is painful, but not hopeless, because we have the certainty that we’ll meet up at the terminal of eternity. Let’s enjoy and put to good use the time of our journey, leaving good memories and the hope of future encounters to God and other people. Amen.