With the advent of September many of us come to the end of holidays. A new school year unfolds, new cycles in at work start, and there is harvest to collect. These changes of routine are almost instinctual, and we don’t think twice about them. It is just what one does, as one has ever done.
Yet this year we are having to consider those changes in a world gripped by a pandemic that stopped everyone dead in their tracks; begging the question of how can we “begin” with the threat of sickness and death hanging over us. The old problem.
It is a challenge that we should not take lightly, especially here in Manitoba where infection rates are on the rise. As we have done since this pandemic hit, and since restrictions were eased, we are careful and mindful of ourselves and others. We do those things asked of us by our Provincial and regional health authority (physical distancing, hand washing, self monitoring, masks ect.) and we manage our behavior in such a way as not to be a scandal to others, or to be an agent of contagion (God forbid).
But even with these precautions, and the changes to everything that are put in place to insure our health, the new beginning that is the fall, is one saddled with the age old problem of insuring our safety and health.
On the surface, the beginning of a Ecclesiastical (Church) new year does not promise us the safety and security, the bounty and the rewards that we have become accustomed to with the new beginnings of anything (that sense of starting over with a clean slate). but if we look deeper, we find in this beginning, the manifestation of the Lord’s love for humanity. We hear from the Gospel of this feast, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD… And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:18-19, 21).
It is not as if those in Israel did not have to worry about the challenges of life after their encounter with the Lord in the Synagogue (challenges that make the Covid-19 pandemic seem like a common cold), nor did those in the Roman (Byzantine) empire, in hearing those words, not have to worry about the challenges of their day (not much better than those in Israel in Christ’s time). Of course they all had to do those things that safeguarded their families and welfare; but the Lord was proclaiming to them, as to us today, something much greater.
As it was for those who heard Christ on that day in the Synagogue, and for those in Constantinople who heard this Gospel in the Great Church, this proclamation speaks to us. It is a beginning that doesn’t necessarily speak about the liberation from the challenges of life (like this pandemic); but more profoundly speaks about the liberation from a cycle of sin and death.
The beginning of the Ecclesiastical (Church) new year, is like the beginning of any year, month, week, day, or moment, where the “Good news” of the Lord’s victory over sin and death is shared with even the poorest soul, bringing hope that death can not vanquish. Where our broken hearts are healed with a divine love, and not the fleeting love this world offers. Where we are set free from the captivity of shame and fear, by our Lord and God, who takes on our nature, to free it eternally. Where we see what real love looks like in the person of the Incarnate Son of God Jesus Christ, and not just an abstracted philosophy or idea. Where we are exalted by His life and not by empty promises. Indeed this is “acceptable year of the Lord” that even in the midst of the chaos of this pandemic, promises a new beginning, and the hope of a resolution with Him eternally.
I can think of no better way to start the Church new year, school year, cycle at work, a harvest, or even a day. May the Lord bless and strengthen us in this.