On a corner of a Cambridge street, by a college not far from here, stands a large modern clock which captures the gaze of many visitors. Flashes from cameras bounce off the clock’s central gold-plated stainless steel face, moulded like a fossilised ammonite. There are no hands or numbers, just the metallic rock of the pendulum’s tick tock. The concentric rings of the clockface instead pulse with racing blue LEDs that dash out hours, minutes, and seconds. The lights at times lag or at other times race ahead, but the motion remains relentless. The most startling feature, however, of this clock remains the carving which sits with great menace at the apogee of the face: a fierce locust, constantly moving, grinding, devouring the time passing its way with an occasional voracious blink. The creator of the clock calls the beast the Chronophage, the Time-Eater. With no chime to mark the hour passing, instead a loud chain crashes with a clunk into a coffin hidden behind the clock face. This clock seems to say that time is relentless, terrifying, irregular in its passing, except for the inevitable entropy and death awaiting all living things. The Time-Eater is not on our side: he is insatiable, eating up every minute of life until ours is gone and the next meal immediately follows.
This golden Cambridge clock with a dark message certainly provokes thought and describes an inescapable reality of a fallen creation: in our daily experience, time can seem to march at a determined and inexorable pace or waltz with a graceful cycle, but it is always moving and never stops. Whether a march or a dance, the only apparent certainty seems to be death. As we stand here today to mark Remembrance Sunday, we recall with great sobriety that men and women have died in war, often terribly, combatant and non-combatant alike; they all seem to have been eaten up by the terrible Time-Eater who ever grinds and gnaws. Even our opening hymn by Isaac Watts shows how painful and inescapable time can seem:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
War and death are indeed the foodstuff of time, of the Chronophage, of the Time-Eater locust. Scripture knows this reality all too well. Indeed, an inscription below the terrible golden clock reads: the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, a verse taken from the First Epistle of John (1 John 2.17).
But this clock on the corner of a Cambridge street also only tells half a story; in fact, it only tells the prelude to the real story. To see something of that real story as we remember the fallen, we need not go far from this very chapel. Indeed, we need only travel to the Clock Tower (or King’s Gate) of this college, immediately to the west of this place. Unlike our first clock, this one looks far more traditional: gold Roman numerals show the hour and numbers mark the minutes on a sombre black face. Rather than a chain falling into a coffin, the Trinity clock sounds the hour with a double note, one low, one high, twice over with a male and female voice as Wordsworth puts it in his poem The Prelude. Two gold clock-hands process around each other in a stately fashion, and light chimes sound at intervals. It is true that, on one level, they together mark the quotidian linear passing of time and the cycles of college life; but they also echo through the round of music and prayers found in this holy place, the stilling of time into the eternal presence of God. As marked by the Trinity clock, such times are different to any other time: they have a strange otherness; in beautiful contrast to the insatiable Time-Eater, such times are pregnant and ready to give birth to something new and wonderful. Indeed, today they shape the Act of Remembrance itself, calling us all to pause, to recollect, to honour, and to sense the breaking in of God even into the darkest of places, even into death itself.
It is this latter kind of time, the special calling to attentiveness in prayer, in quiet, in pausing, which forms the real story. As we listen to the male and female voice of the Trinity clock, or the music of the chimes, we hear a song of hope, a song coming not from the Time-Eater but from the Time-Healer. Remembrance Sunday gives us one special occasion to listen to that song which lilts the great love of God. The readings this morning all sing into this special time, known in the New Testament as kairos, the right, the opportune, the supreme moment for transformation. First, we have Micah’s lyrical vision of the last days where doom, death, and destruction all become caught up, restored, and turned upside down. Swords become ploughshares, spears turn to pruning hooks, and no-one learns war anymore but rather lives without fear in the steadfast love of God. The kairos here – the kairological moment of immense opportunity– transforms the agonising question experienced in all war, in all destruction, in all death – where is now your God? – into a lived experience of God’s peace, healing, and wholeness. The second reading chants the same song of a special, rich, God-filled time: the Lord is near such that the peace of God…shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. St. Paul offers his own life as an example of the power of such kairological time: the Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Jesus transforms the Saul who thunders murder into the Paul who exhorts to his readers those things which ye have learned, and received and heard, and seen in me, do because, by joining in with God’s song of love as it breaks into time, the God of peace shall be with you.
We are in such kairos, such pregnant time, as we gather here today to remember those who have died in war. This is a time of immense possibility, aware of the hardness of the past, and even the present, yet pregnant with hope and ready to let the voices of our lives join in with the choral anthem we just heard that many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it, for love is strong as death. The Time-Eater has no place, no ultimate reality, but the real story is of God the Time-Healer, the One who creates, sustains, and redeems in time and space all that is fallen low, even into the horrors of war and death. So it is that, even as a certain kind of time marches on incessantly or circles around familiar, predictable, and yet often unheeded patterns, the sounds of the Trinity clock point us to God present here now. One of the clock bells reads in Latin, The Trinity sounds in Unity. In this kairos, this propitious time, as we remember those whom God gathers from the storms of war, with bold, prayerful spirits we too can sound as one:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember them.