God holds all times and seasons

* This hymn is concerned with ‘the end of all things’, as envisioned by the apostle Paul.


God holds all times and seasons.midi


1 Thessalonians 5.1-11 Paul writes about the day of the Lord, urging believers to encourage one another. God has not destined us for wrath, he says, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a call to live in sober readiness for that day, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for helmet the hope of salvation. Paul’s readers are to be ruled, not, like other people, by fear, but by expectation of a joyful fulfilment, so that awake or asleep (whether now, or beyond death) we may live with (Jesus Christ).

 This hymn expounds the same message, but on a broader canvas. Where Paul’s letter is addressed to one Christian congregation in one Greek city almost two thousand years ago, the hymn concerns itself with all people today. It is as if addressed to planet earth from beyond the world’s disabling patterns of behaviour. ‘God (who) holds all times and seasons in life’s hand, predestines all to thrive at love’s command’. The hymn confidently nudges everyone to release the tensions that bind people, to ‘welcome (the fullness that is God) each blessed day, and love each every other on our way’. This thriving is revealed in Christ at home in every culture, working for the well-being of all, for the healing of all creation.

This larger canvas may give offence to some Christian believers. Paul wrote that God has not destined us for wrath, and it would not be difficult to infer that, by emphasising us, wrath is by contrast precisely the destiny of some others. This view was sharply satirized by Peter Cook, playing the leader of a group who had gathered on a mountaintop to await the end of the world: ‘We’ll be up here while millions burn, having a bit of a giggle.’[1] In the light of, for example, Paul’s writing that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God[2] it may be doubted whether Paul meant us to be understood in quite such an exclusive way.

The excluding mind – self-promoting, others demoting – exemplifies ‘humans (shrinking) from Christ in fear’, unable to ‘greet with joy the day of God come near’. The problem is ‘the worm of shame (that) distracts us’ (and this is an inclusive ‘us’) ‘from our goal …’ The hymn does not attempt to explore the dimensions of shame: to do so would be to choose to be distracted by the ‘the worm’. But we need to be alert to the constant and insistent pull to forget ‘that love has made us whole’ (both originally, and in history, when love restored us, humankind in creation, to wholeness).

The hymn presumes that, had Paul been looking at the Church within the world from a global perspective, this is how he might have expressed himself. In the Eucharist our contemplation of God’s saving presence contains awareness of our complicity with apparently unstoppable species genocide. But the Hebrew Scriptures witnessed that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live[3]; the hymn likewise insists that God desires ‘no sinful creature’s death, but rather that we seek your saving breath’.

Written originally for the close of the church’s year, the hymn offers the prospect not of a blinding apocalypse that paralyses hearts and minds. Instead, the Biblical day of the Lord is here presented as not less than ‘each blessed day’ in which God may be welcomed as we love ‘each and every other on our way’. It is a gospel without frills or thrills, errors or terrors. The gospel of our beginning and our end in God may consist of a great deal more than ‘man well-drest’[4], but we can be sure that the gospel gives birth to nothing less.

[1] From ‘Beyond the Fringe’ (1961)

[2] Romans 8.21

[3] Ezekiel 33.11. This text was incorporated into the preamble to the Absolution at Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer (1662)

[4] The phrase is from George Herbert’s sonnet ‘Prayer’