During the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria was trying to decide, after hearing the teaching of the missionary Paulonius, whether to allow Christians to preach in his Kingdom and whether to convert to Christianity himself. He consulted some of his advisers, the final of which gave him this sage advice:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in
comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the
swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit
at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,
while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,
but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.
The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out
at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry
tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-
mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter
to winter again. So this life of man appears for a
little while, but of what is to follow or what went before
we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine
tells us something more certain, it seems
justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The above quotation from “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” by the Venerable Bede, is likely more legend than history. But what a powerful image of the fleeting nature of life! King Edwin’s adviser knew that this life is short and that what comes before and after is vast and mysterious. He also knew that some certainty could give life purpose and meaning. Even the Christian mourns the dead and trembles at the thought of losing his grip on life, yet we live lives anchored in hope that what we do here, in the short time we are here, matters. There are some glimpses of eternity found scripture but in the end we don’t know that much more than Edwin’s adviser. We only know in whom we have placed our trust, and that He will be waiting in whatever awaits us in that vast world beyond.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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