From the Rectory – May

The Shepherd Gate clock that is mounted on the wall outside the gate of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich is unusual in one key respect. Designed to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public the clock, that was constructed and installed in 1852, has a 24 hour analog dial rather than the usual 12. Originally the clock indicated astronomical time, where the counting of the hours starts each day at noon. In the 20th century this was changed to the more familiar system of the counting of the hours beginning at midnight.

Dividing the day into hours was a common system in many parts of the worlds for centuries before the arrival of Greenwich Mean Time. The ancient Egyptians began splitting the night into intervals in the 24th century BC, and a 1000 years later had devised a system of 12 hours in a day using sundials to mark the passage of time.

By the time of the Old Testament in the bible, the changing position of the shadows made by the sun as a means to tell the time was a familiar concept. In the books of both 2 Kings and Isaiah we hear how God caused the shadow cast by the sun on the ‘stairway of Ahaz’ – probably a sundial of sorts – to move back ten steps as a sign that he would keep a promise he makes to Hezekiah the king.

Keeping precise time is not something that seems to concern many of the characters whose lives spring from the pages of the bible. What they are more interested in is seeking out when God is going to act. This is a desire that Jesus himself is keen to see put into perspective.

‘No one knows the day or the hour’, says Jesus, referring to events in the future, ‘only the Father’.

We can mark, record and watch time. But we will never be its master. It keeps moving without input or interference from us

As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Time is a beguiling mystery, but nevertheless a gift from God. Let’s use it well.

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