One of you, having lately come through a shadowed valley, shared your revelation with me: how overwhelming, unending and unbeatable situations feel when we are going through them. (Think of, for example, not knowing how to parent your child through difficulty… an IRS audit… mice suddenly running around the house… a misunderstanding with a loved one… or the fears of almost any potentially serious illness.) But how, as soon as we escape whatever plagued us, life’s pace picks up again… suddenly moving along at a clip, almost as if we’d never been hamstrung by our recent impasse.
There’s that power inherent in life — rebirth, second chances, new beginnings. Christians call this “resurrection.” What a helpful reminder as we look towards the New Year: may we pray the impasses of last year are, well, past… that we may move ahead.
Do you recognize, though, the corollary buried in that equation for progress? In order to move ahead, for there to be what is new, we need “old,” “past” …endings to what has been. To try something different, we need to stop doing — at least some of — ‘the everything’ that’s consumed our energy and time and activities! New things going forward necessitate leaving old things behind. Hence the passing of the years and the changing seasons of our lives.
The span of a lifetime and all our lesser limitations are often judged as negatives. But maybe that is a bit of human hubris. Endings are also freeing. The Christian paradigm is NOT unending life. Instead, it is real, dead as a doornail, full-stops as the inevitable and only way to resurrection. …Real, painful endings, so there can be even more real new beginnings.
When the writer of the Book of Revelation envisioned the future, s/he saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” God’s curiosity and creativity and hope explore themselves into a new future that happens in heaven as well as on earth! Therefore, even heaven, it seems, might include the experience of endings in order that there might be the grace of new beginnings.
But could there be a warning in the order of that verse as well? A colleague of mine, Reggie, takes this scripture to mean that before there can be any new earth –or new life for us mortals — newness must happen first in heaven. He preaches for us to beware of reversing and disconnecting these two interrelated realities. We so often aim for and work towards a new earth — while trying to do everything we can to make sure that heaven doesn’t change.
Imagine what he’s suggesting: only a new heaven can possibly tackle all the resistance and inertia and hard-heartedness that we and our world can muster. What might you let go of or take on in the year coming to participate in furthering the renewing of heaven?
Is this the sacramental way of considering the new year? And our callings: that we aim high and work towards a new heaven, from where a new earth may spring forth.
And give thanks, beloved, the church is always ahead of the secular world when it comes to new year (the new church began with Advent!)
A whole and holy New Year!
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