Going for New Life
Unlike a few people I know, I did not give up Facebook for Lent. I am not one to waste time playing online games on social networking sites anyway, so it wasn’t going to be much of a sacrifice if I gave it up. I did make an effort for the duration of Lent to not just post gratuitous trivia and mindless drivel as some are prone to do all the time given the unrestricted opportunity to air out random thoughts, angry outbursts, juicy gossip and dirty laundry whenever the inclination arises, which by the way is neither against the law nor an offense against God, although there is no accounting for taste. But my daily visits to Facebook these past few weeks did give me a window into what goes on in other people’s minds and hearts during the Lenten season. Now I will admit that not everything that goes on in my own mind and heart during the Lenten season is honorable, praiseworthy or gracious. I just know I have the sense not to publish any of it for all the world to see. And I regret to say that most of what I have seen and read on Facebook has been at best inconsequential, having only a few brave souls actually share anything remotely spiritually nourishing given a significant majority of people I know on Facebook are family, or people I know from church or church-related activities. I’m just glad I do not feel compelled to comment on everything I read. That would be a total disaster!
And for those of you who are not or have never been on an electronic social network, you’re not missing a whole lot. You can get just as much gratuitous trivia, mindless drivel, random thoughts, angry outbursts, juicy gossip and dirty laundry from watching TV, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper or hanging out with your friends. If you want to know what giving up Facebook for Lent is like, try giving up TV, radio, newspapers and friends! … But Facebook, or its other incarnations, is not essential for a meaningful human existence, I wholeheartedly agree. … Unless you live on a desert island or in a deep dark cave, you will come in contact with gratuitous trivia and mindless drivel. Hopefully you will also occasionally catch some spiritual nourishment that will enable you to endure the gratuitous trivia and the mindless drivel. We don’t hear about it a lot from scripture, but when Jesus speaks of harvesting the grain, or gathering the grapes, or casting a wide net into the sea for the Kingdom of God, farmers and vine growers and commercial fishermen are very much aware of the unavoidable debris of material life that is gathered along with the good stuff. It belongs to those who are alert and the attentive to sort through the pile and retrieve the treasures within.
So the Lenten season has come and gone. Now we enter the 50-day festival that is Easter. … Our elect have been preparing for baptism for over a year, and they will tell you there have been times when heeding the invitation to look deep into their hearts was not always convenient. Ultimately they made the time. For the rest of us, Lent is a mere 40 days; and we have not always been attentive when it mattered; and for some, voluntary penance that demands more than a day’s participation is simply too long. Those who are preparing for First Communion next weekend and Confirmation in a month will probably agree, if they seriously think of what they are asking, they have not always been properly focused, and there have been times they would have much rather been doing something else. For the most part, they continue to persevere. Yet it is the experience of all serious practitioners of the examined life and serious disciples of Jesus Christ that we will occasionally welcome distraction, we will still pursue gratuitous trivia and mindless drivel, we will sometimes veer from the path of righteousness and grace, and we will attract the dust and debris of our current existence requiring us to pause and sort through the pile, so to retrieve the treasures within.
The new life we celebrate this Easter day is not a denial or escape from the life we presently live. We will all predictably return home after church today, and most everything will still be as it has always been. We will probably watch the same TV programs, listen to the same radio stations, read the same newspapers, hang out with the same friends, even return to Facebook after staying away for Lent. Some of us will even take on again the things we gave up 40 days ago, suddenly giving all our pent-up desires and frustrations free rein. Not wise, if you ask me. So the new life we proclaim today will be an unfortunate platitude because that is what we always say at Easter, just as we always say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy New Year!” or “Have a nice day!” And yet we must know it can be better.
The new life of Easter that we celebrate cannot be the same physical life we are all familiar with. It must result from some deeper transformation within. Just as Jesus suffered physical death and did not simply return to his same physical life on Easter day, so we who pass through the waters of death and rebirth at baptism do not simply return to what we have always known. We honestly cannot. Rather, we are born anew, we are washed clean, we are enlightened by the light of Christ, we are clothed in immortality, we are anointed with new dignity. Our minds and hearts are freshly awakened to a more meaningful existence, our eyes given new vision, our hands new purpose, our hunger and thirst for God’s life intensified, our spiritual senses sharpened. Yes, we might return to the same physical existence we have always known but truly, if we have received new life, we cannot continue to live with the same selfishness, the same destructive attitudes, the same deceptions and idolatries, the same bad habits and indulgences, the same hurts and resentments, the same blindness to truth, the same obliviousness to our neighbor’s need, the same hunger and thirst for food and drink that does not nourish, the same relationships that feed our willfulness and vanity, the same darkness that hinders us from extending to others the life we have received.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,” we read from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. When we received life at the moment of conception, we were not handed a finished product. When we took our first breath on the day of our birth, we had still to acquire the necessary skills to sustain a meaningful existence. When we are reborn into Christ Jesus, we are given the promise of an eternal inheritance that will still demand our intentional participation. New life is not new if everything remains the same. Happy New Life, and I hope it truly is … because you don’t want to just go back to what you have always known.