What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning/The end is where we start from.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
We buy it, we waste it, we lose it. We bide it, we borrow it, we kill it. It’s precious, it’s fleeting, it’s money. It’s of the essence.
I’ve been obsessing about time lately because I seem to have so little of it. But I’ve also been reading and thinking and teaching about the Eucharist — the act that interrupts the saeculum — the secular — which is not so much a “space” carved out over-against the “sacred,” but “time” unredeemed.
In the Eucharist time is measured from the perspective of its end, and chronological time is beside the point. Which isn’t to say that when the Church celebrates the Eucharist it is somehow beyond or outside the scope of chronos time, occupying a spiritual, ethereal plane of existence. On the contrary, the body of Christ is a body enmeshed in all the travails of the temporal: the Eucharist is justice in the midst of horrifying injustice, peace in the midst of unspeakable violence; reconciliation in the midst of heartbreaking strife and division.
Chronological time is beside the point in the sense that it is not the time by which the Church lives; its measurements (clocks and daytimers) do not order the Church’s life and witness. The Church exists instead by another time: kairos — time redeemed by the saving work of Christ and measured by the rhythm of fasts and feasts that order the Church’s common worship.
One of the best guides for living in this time between the times is The Christian Seasons Calendar, produced each year by University Hill Congregation in Vancouver. (Thank God for the Canadians who are teaching American Christians that Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July are not ecclesial observances).
Walter Brueggemann has said of this beautiful, disorienting calendar: “It is clear that the dominant culture in North America no longer knows what time it is, because every season has now been homogenized into an uninterrupted ‘shopping season’ and when we do not know what time it is we are unlikely to remember ‘former times’ and surely have no ground to hope for ‘new things.’”
We all “do” time in one way or another. The Eucharist practices kairos in the midst of chronos. The Christian Seasons calendar — hung in the kitchen next to the calendar marking soccer dates and doctor appointments — is a practical guide for negotiating the times in which we live.