The beauty of autumn

The recent sunny days have shown the autumn colours in all their beauty. The summer has past, and winter is coming, and the world around us is beautifully clothed in orange, yellow, red and brown colours. The autumn colours are not a sign of death but of the cycles of life. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool many trees shed their leaves so that they can survive the winter. The leaves don’t simply fall but are actively pushed off their branches by the trees. The changes in weather and daylight trigger a hormone that releases a chemical message to each leaf that it is time to prepare for winter and slowly, but surely, the leaf is pushed from the tree branch. This process is essential if the tree is to survive the winter.

The world and the universe around us are constantly revealing the glory of God to all people everywhere. This revelation transcends differences in language and culture. In Psalm 19 we read, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.”

God’s creation reveals his beauty and splendour. Through the year he beautifully clothes his world from the bright colours of the spring flowers to the russet colours of autumn. As each day dawns he floods the world with light and at the end of the day creates spectacular sunsets. The sun, moon and stars speak of his wisdom and greatness. He leaves nothing to chance. Through his creation he speaks to us and tells us that he is and that he cares.

How should we respond to God’s revelation through his creation? The trees are wise enough to prepare for winter, but we may not be so wise. God is the living God. He gives life and breath to everything and satisfies every need. He watched over us in our mother’s womb from the moment of conception until the day we were born. He created us to live and to enjoy him forever. He sent his Son into the world so that we might have life and have it to the full. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”

Swing low, sweet chariot

Antonín Dvořák composed the New World Symphony in 1893, when he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. It is by far his most popular symphony. In 1969 Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission and first Moon landing. During his time in the “New World” Dvořák came to admire the beauty of the African-American spirituals and plantation songs of the American South and these may have influenced his New World Symphony.

In the 17th century the Pilgrim Fathers left England and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. They were Christians who were seeking the freedom to practice their religion independent of the state. Their desire for freedom influenced the history and culture of the United States. Before and after the Pilgrim Fathers arrived boats brought African slaves to America to work on the plantations. The land was vast and the life of many slaves was harsh. In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, slavery was abolished and the principle was reaffirmed that all men are created with equal dignity and an equal right to liberty.

The African-American spirituals express the faith and hope of a people living as slaves. They found comfort in the Bible which tells of how God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land and how God’s Son, Jesus, came to set people free from the bondage of sin and death. The words and music of the African-American spirituals powerfully express both the present sufferings of the people and their hope of future happiness in heaven.

“Swing low, sweet chariot” speaks of the forgiveness found in Jesus and the strong hope of life beyond death, symbolised as the Jordan River. “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry me home. Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down, but still my soul feels heavenly bound. The brightest day that I can say, when Jesus washed my sins away. If you get there before I do, tell all my friends I’m coming there too. Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.” In our sophisticated, yet tragically sad, modern world the joy of forgiveness and the hope of heaven speak powerfully to our deep longings to find true freedom.

One small step for a man

On 21 July 1969 a quarter of the world’s population watched the grainy black and white images of man’s first steps on the moon. They saw Neil Armstrong, the commander of the Apollo 11 mission, step on to the surface of the moon, after a journey of 500,000 miles, and heard him say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The news of Neil’s death, at the age of 82 following heart bypass surgery, has brought sadness to many around the world. Walking on the moon was a great landmark in the history of human exploration. Since 1972, however, no-one has travelled to the moon.

Tributes have been paid to Neil Armstrong by his colleagues on the Apollo 11 mission. Buzz Aldrin mourned “the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew.” Scott Carpenter said, “He was the best of the best.” His family described him as “a reluctant hero.” Charles Boden, a NASA Administrator, said that Neil Armstrong “will be remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

Very few people will ever have the experience of walking on the moon. However, all of us will one day leave this earth and enter into eternity. This is the ultimate step into “a world beyond our own.” Our life in this world is just for a time, but each of us has an immortal soul which can never die. Death involves the separation of our body and soul. Just before he died Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he died his body was taken down from the cross and was buried, but his spirit had already passed into heaven. On the third day the tomb was empty because his body had been raised from death. His resurrection triumph offers hope to us all.

It is important to think about the end of our lives and to make preparations for it. The wonderful achievement of the Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of a great deal of preparation by many people over many years. Jesus Christ came into this world to bring hope to us all when we put our trust in him. One hymn writer wrote, “While I draw this fleeting breath, when my eyelids close in death, when I soar through tracts unknown, see Thee on Thy judgement throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”