Christmas Eve 2019, looking back from the ancient chancel of Ripon Cathedral towards the nave.

However, the interesting bit isn’t what you can see. Underneath my feet while taking the photo is the oldest stone-built place of Christian worship in England. Apparently. In the seventh century crypt you stand where St Cuthbert’s body lay en route to his burial in Durham.

So what? Just more old stuff – something Britain is full of?

Well, since that crypt was built in the 600s the world has seen quite a lot. The world has ended many times. The Norman invasion, plagues, the Black Death, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the English Civil War, the birth and death of an Empire, two world wars, and so on. People have lived their lives and died their deaths. They have wept with pain, been wracked by fear, and laughed at the absurdities of life.

We now live in times we consider to be unprecedented and fearful. But, the truth is that all times are fearful and, by definition, unprecedented. And after millions have lived their mortal lives, the cathedral still stands, the crypt bears witness to generations of chaotic people and sometimes-faithful communities. Still there. And so are we: still praying, still serving, still digging into the ancient wisdom of texts written by people who wrestled with the same existential questions as we do.

Old stuff gives us a sense of perspective. In the parish where I was a vicar from 1992-2000 – Rothley in Leicestershire – there is a Saxon cross in the churchyard. We drank wine out of an Elizabethan chalice. I baptised in a Norman font … and would look up at mediaeval windows and down at a Victorian floor. Hanging by the north door there was a wooden plaque which bore the inscribed names of all the vicars of Rothley going back to the eleventh century.

We are part of that continuum. One in which things change, but God seems not to. So, we do our best, try to be faithful in our generation, and hope to pass on to the next generations a world that will speak to them of faithfulness in unprecedented times. And speak to them of time.