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  • Seasons of the Spirit: A New Thing

    As we move through Eastertide (the fifty days between Easter Day and Pentecost Sunday), we reflect upon the words of Isaiah 43: “Behold, I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?” It may take us more than 50 days, indeed it make take a lifetime, to perceive in our bodies, minds, and spirits the great mystery of Easter’s resurrection hope.

    First, we must understand that resurrection is not merely resuscitation or a returning back to “the way things were”. In that morning encounter with Jesus, Mary Magdalene was returning to the tomb to do what she knew she was “supposed” to do—ritually anoint the body with oil and gently care for the corpse. When the tomb was empty, why did she not recognize Jesus, instead of supposing him to be the gardener?

    Like Mary, we must encounter Jesus as he is now, saying our name, calling us out, before we can be able to see the new life to which he is inviting us. It is not just the old life to which we return. “Do not cling to me”, he tells Mary. It is not an old warm blanket of reassurance and fuzzy comfort that Jesus offers. He asks Mary, and us, to follow him into a totally new life based on God’s great Love of us and our world.

    We must let go of our old rituals in order to love him as he is now. And we find ourselves altered. The old gods of our security—our accumulated goods, our worldly accomplishments, our vast indulgences, all the Facebook “likes” we have collected, all the popularity contests we have won—these all fall away and are exposed as the false gods they are. They will never deliver on their promises. It is the God of resurrection alone who delivers us out of our old constructions and False identities.

    Love releases us from the life we had carefully planned and demandingly constructed. Instead, Love chooses the life that is meant for us. This Love reveals our True identities as “unique and beautiful creations of the mystery of God.”

    As Morgan Farley says in her poem, “Clearing”:

    “I know there is another way to live.
    And when I find it (or it finds me), the angels will cry out in rapture.
    Every cell of my body will be (understood as) a rose, a star!”

    What is this other way to live? It all hinges on the two great forces in our lives: fear and love. Eastertide invites us to be released from the fear that binds us, imprisons us. The fear that would put to death our authentic, living, loving True selves. As Brother Nick Bartoli, SSJE, puts it, “The seasons don’t fear death. The moon doesn’t fear falling into darkness, nor does the caterpillar fear its cocoon. The dew on the blade of grass has no fear as it is given wings by the warmth of the morning sun. We can be like they are, and have no fear.”

    Christ invites us to be released from fear. We are invited to enter into a world of Love in which God holds us in an eternal embrace that will never let us go, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is to enter into New Life. Death itself is no longer “the enemy”, for Christ has experienced that death also, and come out of Hell itself, building a bridge over which we cross. Those who attend us and love us meet us there, showing us the way to this New Life!

    We are learning to love one another, as Jesus loves us. This can, at times, be a “harsh and dreadful love.” But we keep one another company here—and are kept company by Christ. Compassionate abiding is our life force. We pray together, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23)

    Now the risen One with the pierced hands and feet keeps us company through the worst that can befall us. Suffering, betrayal, abandonment, denial, death itself is no stranger to Christ. We are now in a New Life, risen with Healing Hope that undergirds our very Being! We are no longer “conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we may discern what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2) And God’s will is that all have life, and have it abundantly! Alleluia!

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church in Winchester (UCC) and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC)