Friday, February 24, 2017

New Beginnings

Birth. Baptism. First day of school. Confirmation. First date. Commencement. First day on the job. Engagement. Marriage. These are the kinds of things we associate with new beginnings. They're milestones, celebrations-- marks of life flourishing. But the reality of the world we find ourselves in is that there is also divorce. Getting fired. Flunking out. Rejection. Loss of friendship, family, community. Death. And they have a way of discoloring, tainting and ruining the things that began.

And it creates another kind of death in us: a death in aspirations and energy--a death of hope. Sometimes even the death of identity. Being Pentecostal gave me a strong grasp of seasons....I heard many prophetic declarations about seasons and times in my growing up years. There was always excitement and anticipation for those moments. And usually within a day or a week, that was replaced with disappointment because sin, death, and the work of the devil had a way of working themselves into that brand new thing.

And there's no stopping that from happening, at least not on our terms. But the whole narrative of the Scriptures is thrust in this idea that the End will be a new beginning. "See, I make all things new!" is the declaration of Jesus to a creation broken and bound. "If anyone is in Christ-- New Creation" is the guarantee of the Spirit-inspired Apostles. So where's it at?

I'm not really delving into the complexities of Christian debates about being conformed to Christ, but I think a critical adjustment to my experience of this newness came when I started attending a church worshipping with the liturgy. Because every week, we confessed our sins together. Then the priest announced God's absolution...and that absolution closed with the phrase "newness of life." I knew how I was hearing that: a call to holiness, to being different than I was, and while I wouldn't argue with the presence of holiness of a sort resulting from God's work in us, I started to wake up to something else--because the promise of newness in the absolution seemlessly moved to the Comfortable Words: "Jesus said, 'Come to Me, all you weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." The promise of newness pointed to a call to rest with Jesus.

A few years later, a teaching assistant who corrected my assignments in seminary shared an insight about the days of creation that stayed with me: humanity is created on "day 6." What time was there to do any work? The crown of creation and God's declaration of "very good" comes as the last bit of work, and then God declares a day of rest--a day that humanity shared in, despite having done nothing. 

I say all that to our sin, and in our work, and in the tensions and challenges and calls we face, we need newness. And we need it often. Newness follows on the heels of confession (if the issue is sin) or an acknowledgement of inability to get it all done or right or perfect (whatever it may be). The Law of new beginnings shows me I'm not enough. The Gospel of new beginnings let's me say "You're right", and enter rest. Because after each rest, new work begins and new attempts are made, and at the end of the day, over every single effort, the word of Jesus stands true: It Is Finished.