A sermon preached by The Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
Genesis 1 v1-2, 3; Matthew 6 v25-3end
“What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.”
“What are days for?” asks Philip Larkin. They are where we live; they alone are where we live. Any challenge to that proposition is a summons to the doctor or the priest. The former has care of the mentally ill: the latter has care of our eternal souls. So, writes Larkin, only the insane or the dead can think of living in anything other than days.
But his imagined priest has not read his Bible very carefully (I say “his” because the poem was published in 1964). For there, from the very beginning of the story, life is measured out in days. Days are indeed where we live time and time over. Each of the days of creation has something of perfection about it. The book Genesis records six times that there was evening, and there was morning – that to each day there was a beginning and an ending. The book records that there was a specific task allotted to each day. And it records that on each day God saw what he had done - and that he judged it to be good. There’s a rhythm of the day’s beginning, the day’s task and its satisfactory completion, and the day’s ending. Perhaps that same rhythm underlies Jesus’s insistence that those who follow him should not worry about tomorrow.
It’s a great irony that the expression “living one day at a time” has become the preserve of those who live at life’s extremes. We associate it with those enduring bereavement or serious illness (or, perhaps, with those running Her Majesty’s Government just now). We urge it upon them: “just take it one day at a time”. Many of us who enjoy good health and an active life would never express ourselves in that way. We think of life rather differently. Where can we live but days? We have an answer for Larkin as we scroll through our electronic calendars. We live in weeks, or terms, or seasons. Days are so much small change when we are planning a summer expedition, or plotting a career trajectory, or creating a curriculum.
Yet what we might call the Biblical rhythm of days, to which Larkin unwittingly points us, deserves greater attention in our driven lives. The Church has always hallowed it. We are celebrating Evensong, the ancient service or office which closes this working day. Tomorrow is another. It will open with its own Morning Prayer. Each day has a beginning and an ending. To each day there is a task to be completed satisfactorily and well. Of each day we have the opportunity to say that it has been good. Within each day there are moments of encounter and opportunity when we can express or receive something of God.
Where can we live but days?