This is quite a week for Big Days. Saturday was All Saint’s Day. Sunday was Reformation Day. Yesterday the American people voted in the presidential election. And on Friday I am conducting the funeral of a relative.
A great many people around the world, not to mention the USA itself, are following the election news with bated breath. The result will undoubtedly be of great importance. For example, how America deals with – or doesn’t deal with – climate change in the near future is a key issue which will be decided by the election result.
Important, yes, but how important is the US election 2020 compared with the Reformation? Will people be commemorating 3.11.2020 five hundred years from now? (Admittedly not that many people DO actively commemorate Reformation Day, but the importance of what Martin Luther began on 31.10.1517 cannot be disputed.) Trumps and Bidens come and go, and neither is likely to go down in history the way Martin Luther did.
Even the Reformation loses some of its importance when one looks at the two thousand years of history of the church. For example, the Schism of 1054 between the Catholic and Orthodox church is a bigger event in the Orthodox world, and Catholics and Protestants arguably still have more in common with each other than they do with the Orthodox. Besides, days such as All Saints’ Day remind us that the Church deals with eternal truths – life everlasting, the communion of saints, final judgement – matters which make arguments about whether the Pope is head of the whole church or merely the Bishop of Rome seem petty. All the major churches have always commemorated All Saints Day and no doubt will continue to do so, long after debates between rival denominations have been forgotten or settled.
But one cannot spend all one’s time contemplating these big questions. Matters of much greater personal importance can happen to us at any time. Babies have been born this week, people have got married, people have lost their jobs or fallen ill. And people have died. ”News” pales into insignificance when major events occur in one’s own little bubble. Suddenly it may be a time for mourning, comforting each other, crying and laughing together. The rest of the world retreats and only the closest of family and friends matter for a few days. Friday wil be such a day. The world will have to cope without us that day.