The sky went dark, the bell in the clocktower fell silent… In years gone by this Monday would have provided the prophets of doom with plenty of material.
These days, of course, such ‘signs’ are more the purview of satirists than soothsayers. We were aware of the plans for refurbishing the Houses of Parliament and the giant bell in its tower. We understand the orbits of the moon and rotations of the earth. We knew these events were coming, and we knew they were temporary.
Yet while the cynics let the events wash over them with barely a glance at the sky, there were still plenty of people eager to mark the momentous occasions.
Living just a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, I was able to pop up to the riverside to bid farewell to my beloved bongs. There was quite a crowd gathered on Westminster Bridge, and several more scattered along the Southbank where my friend and I steadied our phone cameras on the parapet and waited.
While the eclipse in the US lasted just minutes, the UK’s favourite bell could be silenced for up to four years. It was oddly sad, hearing the last chimes of Big Ben fade away. Its unhurried, sonorous tones are a reassuring point of continuity in a world that sometimes seems to be spiralling out of control. Yet I trust the experts who say it must be done, so I can await its return with confidence.
While solar eclipses might once have been scary, our understanding of the patterns of the solar system means that we are able to trust that this one was not a portent of disaster but simply a natural phenomenon. We can watch – safely – and enjoy the spectacle without fear for the future.
As Christians we can apply the same principle to the silences and darknesses of life. We know the God who is in control, and can trust that his purposes are good. When things we have relied on are taken away, and the normal rhythms of life are disrupted, we can turn our gaze to him in confidence and trust. So whether we are marvelling at the motions of the heavenly bodies, or mourning the loss of a symbol of certainty:
‘Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear.’