‘Teach me again, dear Lord,
to number my days.
Call out in me a willingness
to love and serve.’
‘Come harvest-time, each one’s work
Will yield what it may yield.
But to be turned with the soil,
to bed down, and then
grow with God’s seasons,
seems to require the softening
of the ground with many tears.
I have learned to abandon my own plans
without complaint, though often
my ready smile lay close about
the wells of weeping.
We stretch out our hand and throw,
and many, many seeds we sow.
In truth, we do not know
where they will go,
which will take root
or when the unlikeliest ground
glimpses of gold.
Sowing at times in tears,
persisting through the years,
sometimes pulled away
to go and harvest another field…
There are good examples to follow when the seasons shift and in the last week much has been made of the importance of being a servant to the King of Kings because, in remembering the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it’s impossible to separate her reign from her faith and conviction that she reigned by serving. There are clearly differences of opinion in how we should view our constitutional monarchy but there has been a general consensus that the Queen was a woman of faith and integrity and she was widely respected for her witness. The astonishing queue in London to pay respect to her now lying-in state is testament to the important part she has played in our national life.
Yesterday my journey to visit the leaders of a rural church gave me ample opportunity to listen to much of the commentary covering the death of the Queen and nature of monarchy. A discussion of the liminal state of the new king particularly caught my attention: King Charles III is now king but not crowned. This has implications for more than our new King, for as his subjects we are forced into this liminal state with him. Liminality is an anthropological term referring to the ambiguity or disorientation that is experienced in the middle stage of a rite of passage – the status of participants has changed but their transition to their new status is not complete. Sometimes this state is embraced willingly and at other times it is forced upon participants.
It transpired over the course of our discussions that the church could be considered to be in a liminal state. In many ways they are flourishing and despite the significant challenges of recent months, they remain hungry for more of the Holy Spirit in their experience of Jesus and they wanted to develop as disciples. But, (the significant BUT!), they sensed they were in a state of transition from the old ways of being a church to a new way of being church in their context. They weren’t fighting against the prospect of change but they sincerely wanted to know how to move forward in the right direction. They were also seeking to understand how best to serve in this season of uncertainty as they discerned where the Spirit taking them; the importance of serving well in the present season was very much on their hearts. It was one of those visits that, when I left, it was with a lighter heart and increased delight in the prospect ahead of the rural church, the sense of the adventure of fresh ground to break.
So how to live in this state of the ‘not yet’? The late Queen is not our only example of how to serve through changing seasons. Going back to the Celtic saints as well as the Bible gives us many examples of how to live well in a state of liminality. It’s quite simple to say but hard to live as it’s about being faithful, of holding onto what we know as disciples we are called to: to be like Jesus, to serve the Father, the King of Kings.
And the key to being a faithful servant is to follow God’s agenda not our own. Our service should never be about us. In fact, we are called to let go of our own ambitions, plans, pride and hopes to give ourselves over to God’s call to walk His path and not our own. There is real joy to be found if we are willing to do this.
The liturgy I began and end with, was inspired by the life of Eata, a seventh century abbot of Lindisfarne. The facts we know about his life suggest he was extraordinarily able to remain flexible in what he was called to do. He experienced all the joys and excitements alongside disappointments and disruptions that came from leading in a turbulent season of change.
I pray that as we serve Christ together across the UK we will continue to encourage each other in this season and we will find real joy together in the discovering of ‘what next?’ as we embody the loving kindness of God in our communities.
Come harvest-time, each one’s work
will yield what it may yield.
Let us embody Your ready kindness
in our day,
for things will not be as they were before.
From Daily Celtic Prayer Book 2: Further Up and Farther In: ‘Eata – in times of change’.
Director: Wales and South-West England