The Prime Meridian

(As we are in the U.K. I hope you enjoy these perspectives from The True Light, a bi-monthly paper published during our work with the Old St. congregation in London from 1990-1994).

Physicists, mathematicians, astronomers and explorers have labored throughout history to discover the physical dimensions of our planet.  As the spherical shape and immense size of the globe and the irregular layout of land masses were gradually understood, and as advancements were made in communication and travel, men became aware of the need for a universal mapping system and time standard.

The importance of knowing one’s location relative to his surroundings is acutely sensed by the ship’s captain who, braced against the howling wind, strains to see through the blackness of the night the reef that threatens to sink him.  “In 1707, the catastrophic loss of Sir Cloudisley Shovell’s fleet on the Isles of Scilly reemphasized the practical need to solve ‘the longitude problem’ and in 1714 the Admiralty offered a £20,000 prize for a conclusive method” (A Guide to Historical Maritime Greenwich 20).

Thus, during the tenure of the seventh Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddell Airy, the Greenwich Meridian became fixed at the Royal Observatory in 1851 and was confirmed as a World Prime Meridian in 1884.  From this point extends the imaginary and arbitrarily chosen base longitudinal line by which, when used in conjunction with the latitude lines extending from the equator, any exact spot upon the surface of the earth can be plotted.  Further, since every longitudinal point around the globe stands in a different position relative to the sun, the world has agreed upon Greenwich Mean Time as its universal standard.

So basic and functional is the system established 140 years ago that it has remained unchanged though augmented by high resolution satellite images and challenged by more complex methods of travel.  How many lives have been saved, how much has progress been enhanced, and how much smoother do international affairs operate because these standards have been adopted and observed?

On a recent visit to Greenwich I was amused by the irresistible attraction to straddle the Prime Meridian – one foot in the East and one in the West.  The importance of this invisible line to everyday life was lost to novelty.  And then I began to think:  Isn’t it the same with Jesus?  Is He not to many a mere curiosity, a relic beside which to have one’s picture taken?

Jesus Christ is the Prime Meridian of human history.  Even our method of current and historical dating, introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century, is based upon His advent in the flesh.  His is the model human life; we can look to His example and learn how a man should view himself, his Maker, and his fellow human beings.  From the constant of Jesus’ life radiates His laws and teachings which complete the moral and spiritual grid upon which man can plot the coordinates of his life in relation both to God and to the lurking dangers that can plunge him into the abyss.

You see, in spite of all the vociferous clamoring for unrestrained living, men and women need objective guidance as much as the ship’s captain.  No matter how sophisticated and intelligent we deem ourselves to be, we are still capable of plowing headlong into an iceberg.  Have we forgotten the lessons of the Titanic?  Or, in a more sinister vein, have we forgotten what happened to the Korean airliner which lost its way and wandered over Soviet airspace?

What about you?  Do you know where you are?  Do you know what time it is by God’s reckoning?  “It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand … Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (Rom 13:11-12; 2 Cor 6:2).