This is the first Talk of another year. Another Lent begins in February. We look towards another Easter. Another year has rolled around to greet us with all those anniversaries and events we expect.
When I penned the first version of that introduction, I wondered “Does it sound melancholy?” with the repetition of the word another. Is the word “another” a sad word?
One of the clichés of contemporary society and life in modern times is the prevalence of change. We live in an era when change is expected and new-ness is valued. I read once of a Roman Emperor who refused to allow a technological innovation because it would put people out of work. Nowadays, “modernisation” is welcomed in the interests of efficient production. The emphasis is on the superiority of the latest model and the need to upgrade regularly, in the name of efficiency, productivity, status, safety, fear, and so on.
Yet, when I look around, I also see a lot of repetition. The new year announces another series of popular television shows: The Bridge, Fargo, Midsummer Murders, Rake. Yet these new series have a certain predictability in the story line, characters and setting. The new year models of cars are touted as superior but share many of the components and performance of last year and the year before. Consider the humble breakfast. Do you expect innovation every breakfast? I doubt it. I suspect breakfast is the most repetitive and predictable of our meals. (I confess that at one stage, my lunch every day was the same: a peanut butter, cheese and alfalfa sandwich. In fact, I made one for lunch today.)
This reminds me of one of the characteristics of the literature of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), in particular, of its poetry. The writers make a great deal of use of repetition. They delight in it, in fact. Words, phrases, whole sentences and speeches are frequently repeated (compare Exodus 25 and 27). Contemporary readers tend to skip over them “Yes, yes,” we say, “We got it the first time.” How long would a TV series last if the characters regularly told us what they were going to say or do to someone, and then we saw them carry this out, word for word?
However, in the Hebrew Bible, there is a qualification to this observation. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?) Rarely is repetition blind and unvarying. Usually there are slight changes (look at the opening lines of Psalms 2, 6, 9 …). Those changes give insight into the meaning of the passage.
It is similar to a stage play, where there is a backdrop and stage props. The backdrop might remain the same for quite a while, but the props might be moved around or varied. The background scene tells us the context of the action. The action takes place in the foreground and gives the dynamic story of the play.
What has this to do with us and our new year? Repetition in our lives gives us the background of who we are. It is the solid foundation for our identity and self-understanding. The variations from day to day highlight the flow of our lives as we live them.
This month, as I mentioned, we start another Lent, which leads to another Easter. In the Christian community, Easter is the background for all we do and all we believe. Easter is the foundation that provides the context for our Christian life. It is the statement that, ultimately, life triumphs, that “love wins,” that our relationship with God cannot be broken.
Against this certain background of divine community and love, we play out our lives in our relationships with others and the world around. That background of love allows us to care for others.
Maybe those words should be the core of the Minister’s Message for March or April, closer to the celebration of Easter. This month we begin Lent, the time of preparation for Easter. So, for Lent, I invite you to consider what the repetitions in your life are, and the ways in which they give stability and identity, against the backdrop of membership in God’s community. Then, take this one step further, and consider how you might vary them this year, confident in the unfailing presence of God’s love. Peter.
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