As we come to the end of another year, I am reminded of those words of TS Eliot: each end is a new beginning.. the end is where we start from (“Little Gidding”).
However, I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation, even though we need to be reminded that this is a human trait and is not of God. There are few things in life that are certain and perhaps the most significant one is that it will one day end. Christians, however, believe that it is not in fact the end at all, but a glorious new beginning in the presence of God. Nonetheless, I suppose we can be forgiven for thinking that we are destined for an eternal vortex of new variants, infection, illness and sadly for some, death. In the midst of uncertainty, we can perhaps be certain of only one thing: Immanuel – God with us !
1 Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
6 He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
NIV Revelation 21: 1-7
Thus declares the penultimate book of the New Testament. Tomorrow morning, being the last day of the calendar year, I will reach the end of a journey I began exactly a year ago, when I embarked on my reading of “The Bible in a Year”, in itself a revelation to me in so many ways. Whilst I can/must in all honesty say that I have scan-read some of the seemingly interminable lists of names, construction materials, temple measurements etc during this long journey, I have never fallen behind more than 3 days and always caught up again. I have begun many things this year which I have nor completed, much to the Angst of my family no doubt, but this one is different! So, before you read this and barring civil unrest, riot, earthquake or other tragedy that might befall me in the last straight, all will have been revealed!
Even so, I expect I will still have questions about what it all really means. Will the “New Jerusalem” be lowered down onto earth by some sort of celestial pulley system or heavenly cranes; who will be in and who will be out; what will happen to those who are out? It does actually tell us what will happen, though it will still leave many of us all scratching our heads, I believe. Perhaps this is where faith comes in? The ability to believe, despite the absence of cast-iron proof and insufficient human understanding and reason.
We have just returned from a lovely few days at Sandsend, staying in a friend’s flat. The weather was bracing, the sea air re-invigorating and the sound of the waves at high-tide battering the promenade defences but a few metres from our window quite exhilarating. I still have photos/videos of a previous visit there in May 2019 during the last Tour de Yorkshire, when I was with the support vehicle and two German guys from the back-up staff for the Katusha Alpecin Cycle Team. We had parked up at the bottom of Lythe Bank, then to survey the awesome sight of huge waves crashing right across the promenade on that occasion. It was May, but the weather was truly abominable and more like November/December. It had in fact calmed down considerably from earlier in the day when the women’s race had passed through, with the Coastguard in operation, lest the unthinkable happen and a rider be washed over the rails.
As I took my now usual steps up from the far-end of the car-park to go and regale the permanent and semi-permanent residents of this gem of the Yorkshire Coast with a few tunes, mainly of Scottish heritage, I was surprised to see that a collection of 2 or 3 railway carriages had miraculously appeared atop those stairs, shunted up to the station buffers. If it were possible to winch/crane these in, then maybe the New Jerusalem could be lowered down from heaven after all! I guess these veteran elements of rolling stock would be converted into small flats-cum-caravans for would-be sojourners using the Mulgrave Cottage development for brief stays.
This time my walk took me as far as the tunnel entrance, about 25 minutes’ stride from the car-park. Those involved in the construction of this section of the Whitby to Middlesborough line could have known neither that this would be such a short-lived venture and as it turned out poor investment of time and effort, nor that part of the line would fall into the deep before the line was opened in 1886, necessitating the cutting of a tunnel further inland. A little over 70 years later this line suffered as a victim of the final cut itself. It must have been an awesom sight with its viaduct spanning the village like some sort of iron Leviathan! In fact, I have seen a photograph of it: John Guplillot featured it as part of his recent fascinating talk on his early career in the railways as a trainee steam-train fireman to Regnr8 (Men’s Group) at Rawdon Library.
The liberty of a few days away affords some great pleasures: walking, reading, doing jigsaws, relaxing, sleeping, listening to audio-books in the car on the way there and back, eating chocolate …. One of my presents from Helen was a book: “Yorkshire – a story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict”, by Paul C Levitt, and a fascinating read it is too, as it romps through Prehistory, the Romans, the Germanic peoples, the Vikings, the Normans, Anarchy, Massacres, the Late Middle Ages, Persecution, Civil War, 20th Century War. Since time immemorial our beautiful county has been the backdrop for horrendous strife, conflict, persecution, torture, murder, massacre and every other bad thing you could imagine. It is no wonder that we have such a bad reputation with those in the capital and the Home Counties!
In this book features one of the most influential thinkers of 14th Century Yorkshire and someone who popped up in my daily readings from the Northumbria Celtic Morning Prayer. 31st December is the day when we remember John Wycliffe, named after the village where he was born in 1324, near Barnard Castle: a Catholic, a theologian and a man with some radical ideas, n alumnus of Oxford and a man who later taught at Balliol. He believed, even at this early period, that the Bible needed to be made accessible to more people through the use of familiar language. He also espoused consubstantiation, as opposed to transubstantiation, meaning that, according to him, the consecrated bread and wine taken in Communion remain in the physical, as bread and wine, but also take on a spiritual co-existence, whereas in transubstantiation, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ through consecration. This sort of view caused a great deal of trouble for him in his later life and in fact beyond his death in 1384. Such was his posthumous condemnation that his body was exhumed, and his remains burnt and scattered!
As we drove back to Bempton via Scarborough to visit an old schoolfriend of Helen’s, we enjoyed more of the audio-book by Michael Stewart, “Walking the Invisible”, a fascinating insight into the private lives of the Brontës, through a series of walks taken by the author, who as a youngster had been denied the pleasure of reading their work, because he was not considered sufficiently intelligent to cope with it, but who later, following the release of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” debut single in January 1978, written several months earlier when she was still 18, became fascinated, not to say obsessed with their lives.
Anne Brontë had arrived in Scarborough on 25th May 1849, already very ill with advanced tuberculosis, together with her elder sister, Charlotte and their friend, Ellen Nussey. Anne had been diagnosed in January, only a few weeks after the death of her other remaining sister, Emily. In the previous September they had also lost their only brother, Branwell, at the age of 31.
Scarborough was Anne’s favourite watering place and she had enjoyed many happy times there in the past with the Robinson family, for whom she had worked as a Governess for a period of 5 years. Anne had even secured a position for her brother as a home tutor for the Robinson children, but was dismissed when it became clear he had been conducting an illicit relationship with the lady of the house, Mrs Robinson. It seems likely that Anne knew her days were numbered, that she desperately wanted to make it to Scarborough where the sea air might alleviate her symptoms and where she would be laid to rest – this would assuage the grief of her father and for Charlotte who would have had to accompany the coffin back to Haworth. As it happened, she died only 3 days later on 28th May and was buried in St Mary’s cemetery off Castle Road. Whatever might have been in her mind, she had previously written: “I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable, I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect, but I wish it would please God to spare me, not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practice – humble and limited indeed – but still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.” Brother Branwell’s descent into depression, alcoholism and addiction following his dalliance with Ms Robinson had however brought him into a far more disturbing relationship with Death, witness his sketch of the Grim Reaper leaning over his bed and taunting this desperate man.
As I popped in the final piece of the Wentworth puzzle (the laser-cut ones with the “whimsy” pieces, a beautiful picture by Natalia Klimova called “The north wind”, (this was a present to Helen, by the way, and not to me!), I felt a huge sense of relief. For some little time, I had been sure there must be a piece missing, as I simply could not locate one of the right shape, “whimsy” or otherwise. On checking in the bag, I found that one piece had remained behind … and that was it! Short of counting all the pieces beforehand, no-one can ever be sure where everything will fit and whether or not there might be pieces missing. True satisfaction can only be derived when the whole picture is complete, with every piece in the right place.
For now we see only a reflection as a in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
Otherwise, Revelation gives us the alternative:
8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.’ Revelation 21:8
Happy New Year! Peter Lambert – December 2021