I’m pleased that it is 2017, not for any particular reason, just that it isn’t 2016. I’ll turn 60 this year so it will be an important one for me personally. But apart from that and, presumably, Article 50 being triggered, I have no idea what will be happening. I’m not given to horoscopes or reading Nostradamus, in fact one of the things I remember from my confirmation classes when I was 11 was being told to include ‘I have read the horoscope’ as part of my examination of conscience before Confession! But I’d quite happily forget 2016.
Obviously Brexit and Trump were low points as far as I was concerned and a real wake up call, a challenge to my assumed confidence that ‘things can only get better’ to use D:Ream’s words. But there was so much in the year that cast a heavy pall over life. Within all the gloom, of course, the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London was a bright spark. Leading him into Southwark Cathedral as he began his mayoralty in our sacred Christian space was a highlight of the year. But I think all of us became wearied by the endless news of the deaths of celebrities. It really did seem relentless. From David Bowie right through to Debbie Reynolds it seemed as though there was a cull of the famous and the infamous underway.
I realised of course that I’m of an age when people I know die and that those who were stars when I was growing up are getting old. I also realised that my generation has lived in an age of celebrity, of pop stars and TV stars as well as the stars of the silver screen celebrated by the previous generation. Celebrity has been the mood music of our generation and the song is changing. There are so many people who are now defined as celebrities that, of course, their deaths are more numerous as well. If, back in 1968, Warhol was right that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, then each of us has celebratory status and our deaths are worthy of noting.
In these last few days my own mother has died. Jill Harrison was no celebrity, well, not beyond her family circle. For us she was everything. She was 85 when she died but the last 15 years were marred by the effects left by a severe stroke. That took from her all her former abilities – handicrafts, cooking, even reading. She was a proud homemaker who had been able to stay at home rather than go out to work for the whole of her married life. It was strange to be asked at the Registry, as my father and I registered her death, what her profession had been. We said ‘Costing Clerk’ which was true but she hadn’t done that since they married. But we value paid work above the hard work raising a family and so that went on the Death Certificate, ‘Costing Clerk (Retired)’. I ask you!
Mum had been deteriorating rapidly over the last two weeks. I’d been up and given her the Last Rites already (she was always frightened she would die without them) but I brought the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Oil with me when I arrived back in my parents’ village on Christmas Day. On Boxing Day we had a little service round her bed. She was unable to receive the Sacrament but we did on here behalf, I gave her Absolution and anointed her. Then we sang ‘Away in a manger’ and she mouthed the words. I gave her a final blessing and she closed her eyes and went to sleep. She never really woke up again and on the Feast of the Holy Innocents she died. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
The term Anno Domini, abbreviated AD in our calendars, is an interesting one. The pattern of dating the years from the supposed year of Christ’s birth, devised by Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor (hardly a celebrity on anyone’s list – though maybe he should be) wasn’t established until 525 AD and wasn’t widely used until 800. Before that, other calendars were used and still are. But there is something very powerful in thinking that the birth of Jesus really was the beginning of a new era of history, the Janus moment if you like, from which we look back and look forward, from which you begin to date things. But then we all do that. In future we will say as a family each Christmas ‘It’s one year’, ‘Its five years’, ‘Its ten years’ … ‘since Mum died’. There are always endings and beginnings, turning points in our own histories and turning points in our global history, the events that are significant to a few and to many.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews begins his wonderful book with time and eternity embracing verses.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (Hebrews 1.1-2)
God has spoken in time and embraced our time, our years, our events, large and small. God is with us in the certainties and the uncertainties as we face the future and in this ‘Year of Our Lord 2017’. May it be a year of blessing for each one of us.
God of time and eternity,
as you have blessed the past
and share in the present
so bless our future.