The New Year reminds us of the rhythmic cycle of endings and beginnings that characterize the human experience and the natural world. This fundamentally hopeful truth is the essence of the resurrection stories that form the core of the Christian New Testament.
In our fruitless pursuit of the historicity of the resurrection stories, we often overlook the remarkable transformation of those closest to Jesus in the days immediately following Jesus’ death. Jesus’ capital punishment eliminated any hope of deliverance from the oppression imposed by the Roman government, the essence of the bond between Jesus and his followers.
However, ancient archaeology, artifacts, ancient writings and the rapid expansion of a new expression of Judaism bear witness to the fact that those closest to Jesus were suddenly transformed from a rag tag band of oppressed peasants to a powerful community of hope. This tragic ending and the restoration of hope were two sides of the same coin in that first century experience. The emergence of hope from the ashes of these human lives fulfilled the promises of the great Jewish prophets as well as the great religions of the world and continues to energize human lives in every generation
The promise of new beginnings in the human experience constitutes the thematic core of Biblical literature. We need only revisit the mythical stories of Adam and Eve who after expulsion from suffering-free life found a new beginning in parenting the human race, Abraham who at the end of a long life leads the Israelites to the Promised Land and the earth destroying Great Flood introduces Noah who ushered in a new beginning of the world. We recall the joyful return of the Jews to Jerusalem following unthinkable painful captivity in Babylon. Each Biblical story adds a layer to the theme of hope that emerges from hopelessness.
We experience this dimension of the human experience in the cycles of our own lives wherein endings are never just endings, but also usher in new beginnings. Consider that our disappointments and moments of darkness are followed by moments of contentment restoration of love of life. Failures are followed by successes.
New found friendships following the loss of valued relationships lift our spirits. We recover from the painful loss of a loved one and move forward with a new appreciation of life powered by the memories of those no longer with us. Psychologists and therapists, rooted in Freudian emphasis on past experience as the root of some mental illnesses, are also witnessing human transformations resulting from helping folks to re-imagine the future where new beginnings area always just around the corner.
Pastors focus on new beginnings at memorial services does not solely relieve the pain of loss but also reminds us that the seeds of new beginnings are found in our endings, even in death. We marvel at the restoration of the forests in the wake of the Yellowstone fires that ravaged the Yellowstone landscape. Moreover the cycle of the seasons is a reminder of the cycle of death and birth.
The cycle of endings and beginnings is the DNA of creation and is as predictable and observable as the law of gravity, the inevitability of death, and, of course, taxes! This fundamental building block of creation resuscitates us as we transition from one stage of our lives to the next. Maybe that is the fundamental truth of the resurrection stories.
Christians are taught to think about resurrection as a noun, an event that is reported in the Bible, the literal belief of which is encouraged if not often required.
But resurrection can also be a verb, a way of life in which we lean into the mysterious future to discover and embrace the new beginnings that are always lurking around in the endings in our lives. Resurrection challenges us to recognize in our darkest moments the seeds of new beginnings and to have the courage to reach out and grab them.
Let us then not fret over endings. We hate endings anyhow. Instead, let us learn to vigorously pursue the possibilities before us. In the words of Isaiah to his people hopelessly mired in Babylon:
Wake up! Wake up! Clothe yourself with strength, Zion!
Put on your beautiful clothes, holy city of Jerusalem.
Godless and evil people will no longer come to you.
2 Shake the dust from yourselves.
Get up, captive Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains around your neck, captive people of Zion. (Isaiah 52:1, 2)
Happy New Year!