Monday, February 29, 2016

Resurrection is newness - the essence of Jesus' message from the empty tomb.

I must admit with some hesitation that I used to view the approach of Easter with a certain tepidity when I first became a priest almost 15 years ago.  Not that I didn’t believe in the Resurrection and all that it holds for us.  But looking back at my first few years in ministry, I realise that I had a rather weak and almost vapid appreciation of the depth and power of the Resurrection.  I must have preached the garden variety of “God-has-vanquished-sin-and-death-for-us-at-Easter” homily, and hopefully, my words had some positive impact for the person in the pews.  But I must also admit that just a few weeks into the lengthy liturgical expanse of Eastertide (50 days to be exact), the intensity of this truth and its impact would wane somewhat when the humdrum and monotony of the daily grind set in.  Did my words of relishing the Resurrection vaporize with the onset of life itself? 

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that our humanity seems to set itself for short-term celebrations rather than long-term observances.  The onset of the age of the Internet doesn’t make it any easier to retain important experiences such that they truly make a lasting impact on our lives either.  Just apply this to something as simple as telephone numbers.  We used to remember so many peoples’ phone numbers in our heads.  I know I did.  But with the advent of the mobile phone where each of us carries in our pockets a fully working computer, the memory in our heads have largely been replaced with the memory in our pockets.  We seem to have become very passive in the retention of anything of significance, and live only for the moment.  Perhaps this could contribute to our inability to hold on to something truly significant, and to see it played out in bits and portions over an extended period of time, like the span of our lives.  The narrative of wanting this ‘short and snappy’ seems to inoculate us against this.

I am quite certain that we have a pressing need to always try to see the resurrection of Jesus in ways that are new and different.  In fact, what the resurrection of Jesus promises us is precisely that – that there is always a chance for a newness restored, and a chance to start over, and to be reset.  As long as we live, hope is not empty, because neither was the tomb.  No betrayal is final, and every sin can be forgiven when the heart is set right.  There is no unredeemable loss.

I think we have a lot of trouble believing in the ultimate reset.  Resurrection is not about one day’s rising, but a daily event that sees it being played out in a myriad different ways.  Part of the other problem, I believe, is that we have immunized ourselves against surprise, newness and any vestige of freshness.  As a race, we humans have a shared tendency to fall into cynicism, depression, and general malaise.  The resurrection gives us the possibility and the energy to rise from all that, again and again. 

I like what Gilbert Keith Chesterton (a.k.a. G K Chesterton) was very fond of saying:  Learn to look at things familiar until they look unfamiliar again.  There is a lot of wisdom in this. 
Actually, I would say that gratitude and familiarity are strangers, but I couldn't find this from any stock images, so this had to suffice - Fr Luke
A similar but less punchy phrase that could refer to the same truth is that familiarity breeds contempt.  This phrase isn’t half as good because it only states the problem. It doesn’t provide a solution. 

What we need to do is to find new and innovative ways to ensure that we spot and shatter the illusion that is before us, and Chesterton is spot on to say that familiarity is the greatest of all illusions. 

It is imperative that we slowly admit to and give up the illusion of familiarity in our lives, and this pertains especially to those who we are in constant or regular contact with.  When we do this, we keep at bay the cancer of ingratitude and disrespect.  It is this cancer that eats away at marriages, friendships, communities and the nucleus of the family.  When each person is no longer seen as a respectable and respected individual, but someone who is just there.  This is evident when we think we know everything about the other person, his or her quirks, likes and dislikes, preferences and pet peeves. 

This is evident too, when titles of respect are dispensed without much thought.  Perhaps I need to explain a little here.  I have a dear priest friend from New Zealand who has told me that he has dispensed with his parishioners calling him ‘Father’.  I have heard his explanation of this – he feels that this title separates him from his flock, and that he wants to be seen to be on familiar terms with those he leads.  It breaks down barriers.

Perhaps.  Yes, to a certain extent, I can see his point, and I respect his views.  But in the light of what I have just written about familiarity, I also have seen that it has its blind side, which is an over-familiarity.  When I relate to my parishioners, the very reason that I do not tell them to ‘drop the ‘Father’ no matter who they are is really for the benefit of both – theirs and mine.  For them, it reminds them that I have a vocation in their lives other than being ‘one of the guys’.  This is especially true when we realise that nothing destroys relationships more than a contemptuousness born of familiarity.  It reminds us of our roles in society and in life.  It is also for myself – to remind myself that my insertion into any community and family has a spiritual dimension too, and this reminds me to respect boundaries and keep things healthy and whole. 

So too is this truth just as pertinent when seeing the resurrection.  Familiarity is really an illusion, and one way to look at things familiar till they look unfamiliar again is to overcome an illusion of having seen it all.  Easter is really about seeing that there is freshness, and that there is surprise even in the mundane, and that even people who are alive anew can be mistaken as mere gardeners.  Easter showed us that even familiar gardeners need to be looked at again and again till they too become unfamiliar – so unfamiliar that it is Christ we eventually see.

1 comment:

  1. “Resurrection is newness.......... Easter is really about seeing that there is freshness, and that there is surprise even in the mundane........”

    As early as the second day of the Lunar New Year, before the onslaught of Ash Wednesday and Lent, my emails, WhatsApp and text messages were alive and choke-full with all the endless ‘must-read’, ‘must attend’ courses or talks, sermons and video-clips on how to have a fruitful, spirit-filled Lent and Easter. Most were from concerned and well-intentioned relatives and friends who only wanted to share their cache of faith-forming materials but I do wish it wasn’t such an avalanche- so much so that by end of the first week of Lent, it produced an unbearable ennui. And so I went on a ‘book fast’ and that included all written materials as well.

    I turned to my now unkempt and neglected garden for some respite and solace (despite the warning of dengue-mozzies) Among the many potted greens was one called “the Fragrance of the Night” and I noticed that half of its main branch, vertically from shoot to root had rotted away and become pulpy. Sadly I was about to discard it (for I was fond of it) - when out of curiosity I used my pen-knife to slice through vertically for I noticed that the other half was still very green with some over-blown scented blossoms still clinging by. To my surprise, the stem of the green half was unaffected by the blight – it was healthy and sturdy- just like a new plant. It is alive! And well.

    And I reflected that, that’s actually what is necessary for me to do this season of Lent, spend time with Him to locate what are the useless and rotted parts that need to be trimmed away so that the spirit can be re-freshed and re-newed. So when I finally opened your post to read Monday evening, I was struck by two words – “newness and freshness”.

    This morning in the Daily Prayers, the affirmation is prayed in the prayers of Intercession –
    “Blessed be God, the giver of salvation, who decreed that mankind should become a new creation in himself, when all would be made new.” And I respond - “ Lord, renew us in your Spirit.”

    Thank you for writing. God bless u, Fr.