Learning from the hours

Have you ever noticed that in Genesis chapter one, the days are the wrong way around?

When I say the wrong way around, I mean backwards to what we expect, and before you rush off to compare the order of creation and question whether it means anything meaningful that the sun and moon come so late (it does, but that’s not our topic today), look at each day.

They’re backwards.

“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” and each day thereafter. Evening, then morning. That’s backwards. We all know that days start in the morning, unless we’re pedantic enough to insist that they start in the middle of night. If we are that pedant, we are a prime example of what happens when you give a scientist a poet’s job, or when we let people learn the natural sciences before they’re thoroughly grounded in real subjects, like poetry.

But the destructive results of carving the day into twenty-four sections and thinking we’ve done something clever aside, the days in the Old Testament seem to be backwards.

Of course, I’m sure we can all grasp that they count time differently, so it’s not wrong but different. Except, I would like to contend that the Old Testament’s way of counting days is instructive to us. Honestly, it’s also better.

The day starts in the evening as the Sun sets and then continues into the daytime after the night, ending at sunset the subsequent evening. Think, perhaps, of the Jewish observation of the Sabbath to see this in practice: beginning on Friday evening and following through to Saturday evening.

Ok, they count days differently, so what?

Little things like this shape the way we see the world. They subconsciously tell us stories. Day, followed by night tells us a story: we have limited time to work, then our death will come. Make the most of your days in the sun while you can, for they are brief. The best comes at the beginning, the worst at the end: or in other words, youth is better than old age. This is as good as it will get, or nearly, once you hit a peak it’s downhill from there. There is nothing to hope for, for the Sun is dying, slowly, inexorably, and we will perish with it. We are brief. Life is short.

This is the liturgy of the hours, day, then night. It is a story of swelling sadness, of endings, and of the death of God. Everything that is good withers and perishes.

You might think that you are not affected by this, but you are, we all are. The smallest of things done day after day will shape the way we see the world.

What then is the story of night followed by day? We begin with rest before we proceed to work. The work that we do is not the centre of our lives. The best comes at the end, age is always better than youth, so wisdom is a worthy pursuit. Things that take time are worthwhile. There is no great rush of time through our fingers, for the sunlit uplands ahead stretch beyond the night into a distant future we cannot see. You don’t matter as much as you think, go to sleep. This is not as good as it will get, for joy cometh with the morning. Perhaps things look bleak because it is still night-time; it is a fundamentally hopeful way of looking at the world. Life is short, but then the sun rises.

This is the liturgy of the heavens, night, then day. Death, then life. Struggle and trouble, followed by the reign of the Lord of Sunshine, risen to the heavens above. This is the hope of the resurrection.

Which is the way we’re meant to look at the world. It starts in my smallness, my death, my inability, and ends in the glories of the divine Son.

It doesn’t really matter whether you think the day starts as your head hits the pillow or when you wake but recognising that we start with sleep and that joy comes in the morning can profoundly reshape the way you visualise your weeks and years. This is the view of life of the Bible: hope comes after and far more can be mended than you know.

What does matter is that we start to see the world with open eyes. Everything teaches you the way of the Lord, or the way of death. Nothing is neutral, everything speaks. This would make some combative and fearful, that is not the way of Jesus—rather we should with smiles and mirth confront what speaks ill and gently correct it without taking it or ourselves too seriously. Friends, night comes before day. Struggle before hope. Death before life. But the morning is coming with the bright cries of the dawn chorus and the angelic chime of the heavenly host as the Lord of glory rises in the east. Joy cometh in the morning.

So, the day wins. Hope wins. Life wins. The Lamb wins.

And every single day, the birds announce that as you wake. What else did you think they were singing about?

Photo by lee Scott on Unsplash

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