Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Beginnings

The First Sunday in Lent,
Year B

Readings: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Spring is a new beginning. Long before we see the signs of new life that tell us that winter is past, the earth is beginning to prepare itself for spring. Already we are seeing signs of that new beginning. Days are beginning to lengthen. Soon the signs will become more tangible – new colour, new life, warmth. And along with the beginnings of new life will come also the violence that accompanies re-birth. Rivers will fill with rushing water. There will be the inevitable springtime thunderstorms.

Our human experience of new beginnings also carries with it both the gentleness and the turmoil of spring. Both are necessary to produce new life, new growth. With all the wintry weather we have been experiencing it may not feel as if spring is close, but Lent is the Church’s springtime. It is the time for us to be reborn in gentleness and violence to the new life in Christ.

New beginnings are exciting. I think of some of my own new beginnings. I grew up in the hustle and bustle of the inner city of Toronto. There has always been a comfort for me in being surrounded by tall buildings. The noises of the city, the rumbling of cars and streetcars, factory noises, are all a natural part of my world.

How different my life became when, at seventeen, I moved up north to begin a teaching assignment at an Indian Residential School on James Bay. There were so many new experiences. Flying for the first time, my first class of children, experiencing a new culture, learning to drive a skidoo, a canoe trip up the Fort George River! The night sky lit up with stars! The northern lights dancing with beautiful colour! The howl of the wolves that was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck!

New beginnings involve risk. They call us from our familiar, comfortable world into a strange and unfamiliar one. We can feel isolated, alone and unsupported as we embark on a new venture or relationship. It is difficult to see where it all may lead. My early teaching experience certainly had its storms. I was living in isolation far away from family and friends. During ‘freeze up’ and ‘break up’ no planes could get into our northern community so for weeks on end we had no contact with the outside world. I was working with small children taken away from their homes and families and cultures. I left home barely three weeks after the tragic death of my younger brother. Yet I look back on it as a fruitful time in my life that led me in life directions that have proven invaluable.

The story of Noah and the flood is an epic story of a new beginning. In the beginning God created the world. God created it out of goodness. But evil entered into the world. From the destructive waters of the flood God began over again. God entered into a covenant relationship with Noah. Covenant helps us to understand that a creating God not only brings us into existence, but also enters into relationship with us. It breaks down the barriers between God and humanity giving meaning and hope to our existence. The rainbow becomes a symbol of our solidarity with God and all of creation. It is an intuitive association and one that requires our reflective thought.

Mark tells us about a new beginning in Jesus' life. His baptism in the Jordan marked for him the beginning of his earthly ministry. Privacy ends, public life begins. It marks a covenant relationship between him and God. It is a point of intersection, a meeting of heaven and earth. “You are my Son, the Beloved,” God tells him. The Spirit of God enters him enabling him for what lies ahead. It is for Jesus as it would be for any of us, a time of decision, of pressure, of anxiety.

How do we make a new beginning in our spiritual life? Baptism is the new beginning for the Christian. We go down into the water to die. We emerge from the water to new life. It is an exciting moment in our lives as we make a decision to follow Christ. It is an exciting moment as we enter into relationship with God. It is an exciting moment as we recognize the Spirit of God at work in our lives. But there is also risk at entering the water. It is a time to let go, to lose control, to become vulnerable.

“But I was just a child when I was baptized,” you may be thinking. And there does come a point in our spiritual lives when we will want to renew that covenant with God. Whenever there is a baptism we are given such an opportunity. Many people experience times of renewed commitment through a time of retreat or a conference or a renewal movement. We need to experience times of change and growth. They may be times of great joy, the birth of a child, a new relationship. Often it happens because of the turbulence of life, times of disaster, or uncertainty, a death in the family, a move, changing jobs, unemployment, sickness, and retirement. Both are opportunities to draw closer to God, times of spiritual growth and recommitment.

Lent offers us an opportunity to renew our baptismal covenant, an opportunity to develop our relationship with God. For Lent is a time of self-examination, of checking our focus, of sorting our priorities. It is a time to reflect on God's promises and to recognize our failure to live up to our part of the relationship. It is a time to begin anew, through repentance, through seeking God's guidance, through struggle, and through renewed commitment. It is a time to seek God's guidance. Hopefully we begin to rely on God. May it be a time of renewal and hope!

Lent is a time for a new beginning. We are invited to reconsider our baptismal covenant and rededicate ourselves to a continuing conversion. We are called to begin again to enter into the death-resurrection process. We do not know where this new beginning will take us, but together we enter into a journey from ashes to Easter.

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